Evolution of Media @PennState

In today’s fast paced sports market every team out there is looking for an edge, a way to connect with fans and increase the game day experience, a crucial aspect of that is social media.  Something Penn State Football coach James Franklin has embraced and took full advantage of.  As the Bleacher Report points out, Penn State’s last head coach Joe Paterno was extremely old school.  In his eighties, Paterno was not exactly tech savvy, and it’s highly unlikely a fan of Penn State athletics would ever find the classic coach on Twitter or Facebook.  Even with new advances that made technology easier to use, Paterno still did not engage in online media.  As his replacement in 2012, Bill O’Brien helped usher in some new changes, including updates to the athletic departments YouTube Channel and an all access segment on ESPN.  Yet he did not engage fans and students online in the way Franklin has.

Franklin has a Twitter account, something his predecessors did not take part in.  When taking over and introducing his new staff, Franklin admitted that while he doesn’t particularly like social media, it affords him an opportunity he otherwise wouldn’t have, “I’m not a fan of it either, to be honest with you. But it gives me an opportunity to reach an audience that I don’t have an opportunity to reach other ways. I can get my message out there, we can start talking about things that are important in our program—our core values. It’s a way to connect. … Although this is a huge and passionate, unrivaled fan base, we want to connect.”  Franklin realizes that social media is all about connections, something that sports franchises everywhere are attempting to capitalize on.  Fans want to feel connected and apart of the team, and social media allows that “We want to have a very, very personal, intimate relationship with the fans and our alumni. We do want to reach out, we do want to connect. Social media gives us the ability to do that.”

Now all of Penn State’s coaches have their own personal twitter accounts.  And while some of them tweet inconsequential bits and jokes, people can learn what’s going on in the recruitment process by following Franklin, who also leaks new stories.  People can also tell that it’s Franklin tweeting, and not just a public relations representative in his place.  Franklin has taken to using PSUnrivaled, a slogan that has become extremely popular with the students and Penn State fans.  Ryan Belcher, a student said “I think it’s critical to have a coach who understands and utilizes social media to his advantage.  When a coach can become a presence that’s consistently felt on social media, it’s impossible for a recruit to not take notice.”  It’s helping to establish connections that Penn State fans felt with Paterno and his coaching staff in a much more rapid time and allowing fans behind the scene access which they did not have before now.

No technology in sports changes faster than the media.  Sports teams are searching for a way to interact with fans more and keep them engaged.  The constant coverage of sports, with national, regional, and local television access help to keep fans active.  But not everyone purchases the sports package from their cable providers, limiting the special coverage such as ESPN, NBC Sport, and the like.  Basic coverage includes ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX.  Regional coverage, like NESN and YES, are only useful to fans if they live in that region of the country. Social media is one constant that connects people across many boards.

It’s all about exposure and connectivity to fans.  As a result teams need to prioritize social media in order to stay connected to their fans.  It helps to grow their fan base, during a time when fans are drifting away, attendance is dropping, and people would prefer to stay home and watch rather than buy a ticket.  Social media is huge in the sports world because it’s all about emotion.  People tweet and post what they feel, especially athletes, and people respond to that, they connect more when they feel like these people are revealing their emotional responses.  Sports are an emotional buy, people purchase based on emotion and feeling, social media ties directly in with that.  It’s the best way to connect to fans and get a feel for or set the fan culture for an organization.  Fans are able to express their opinions and receive feedback from the organization, coaches, players involved.  Social media can help a team to forge a relationship with their fans, it’s a way to let the fans touch, be involved with the organization.

Franklin lets his followers know when they get commitments from potential students, fans get more of an inside view of the recruiting process. His usage of PSUnrivaled has helped to united both students and alumni around the football team that has faced a lot of difficulties in recent years.  It also is a great attribute that Franklin sends out the tweets himself, and not a member of some public relations staff.  It creates a more personal relationship between Franklin and the Penn State fans, people feel more of a connection to the team and the coach when they can hear directly from the playing members.

Franklin is using social media to his advantage, as a campaign to attract Penn State fans.  He’s managing to foster a connection with them, and connectivity is one of the strongest assets, if not the strongest asset, that sports teams are fighting for in the market today.  With a coaching staff all on twitter connecting with fans and making them feel a part of the organization is easier for Penn State than ever before.


Weller, Troy. “Penn State Football: How James Franklin Is Winning Fans with Social Media.”      Bleacher Report. Bleacher Report, 21 Mar. 2014. Web.


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