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Promoting Athletic Programs Through Social Media

By Nate Perry on January 29, 2020 hst Print

Avid social media usage for the purpose of entertainment – especially by young people – is a widely accepted practice in today’s American culture. What may be lesser known, however, is that social media platforms are also being sought as primary news sources, and the number of adults participating in that trend has increased significantly.

According to recent survey statistics from the Pew Research Center, the segment of adults frequently tracking current events through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other outlets has risen from 20 percent to 28 percent over the past year. In addition, surveys showed that for the first time, the adult population leans more heavily on social media for its news than print media.

Pew’s analysis should be of significance to high school activities directors around the country, as it reveals – in many cases – a more effective method of reaching the masses. And unlike the nonpartisan, fact-based coverage provided by the press, creating social media content allows administrators to “control the message.”

“Where we’re at in Glenwood, Iowa, we have one newspaper that goes out on Wednesdays and no media in town,” said Jeff Bissen, Glenwood High School’s athletic director. “So, a lot of people don’t know the results of our games until the following Wednesday, or they have to go to the internet to try and find results. Through social media, we’re telling our story and telling people what’s happening.”

“Media isn’t always kind to sports,” added Scott Garvis, Ankeny (Iowa) Centennial High School athletic director. “The story is not always told, so as athletic directors we need to make sure we are telling our stories in the community so people know all the great things that our coaches and student-athletes are doing on a daily basis.”

Controlling an athletic department’s message was one of the primary benefits of utilizing social media that Bissen and Garvis presented at the 2018 National Athletic Directors Conference. Through their shared expertise, the two Hawkeye State administrators came up with the following ideas to capitalize on the increasingly popular and ever-expanding online realm.

Getting Started

Activities directors building a social media presence from scratch can start with simple steps like reporting scores or sharing pictures and videos from events. Particularly effective on Twitter, writing quick, one-sentence updates or posting related photos or short videos are great ways to start gathering and informing followers, and can be easily managed as part of a long list of other event responsibilities. Phonto, an application that allows text to be added directly to pictures, can provide a personalized element.

“It doesn’t have to be a lot,” Garvis said. “Even if its super simple, people are still going to “like” that and “retweet” that. I’ve seen a lot of ADs who are very simple but have tons of followers because they’re just posting scores at quarter breaks and halftime.”

Administrators with available funds can look to Box Out Sports, a company that offers pre-made infographic templates with three separate price brackets (Basic, Plus and Premium). With a picture or video and a few clicks, activities leaders can publish clean, professional graphics to their social media accounts without devoting copious amounts of time.

Box Out Sports’ in-game graphics offerings include templates for starting lineups and end-of-quarter, halftime and final scores that come in a variety of styles. Other designs for promoting upcoming games, individual and team milestones and accomplishments such as all-conference selections are also available.

The pressure to produce engaging, creative content can be an additional obstacle for activities directors who are social media novices, but Bissen and Garvis both say there is no shame in borrowing or “recycling” effective ideas from other schools.

“I stole a lot of (Garvis’) stuff when he was at (Newton [Iowa] High School), as I was just starting out,” Bissen said. “Every AD is really stealing, begging and borrowing ideas and things that are already out there, so if I see a great post by somebody – high school ADs, colleges, whoever – I’ll just try to modify it to fit what we’re doing.”

Sportsmanship/Community Relations

Using social media to promote awareness of good sportsmanship or community service is an idea that may not immediately come to mind for some administrators and can potentially make a difference for schools looking to improve their culture.

Something as easy as sharing the NFHS Learning Center’s “The Parent Seat” video or other sportsmanship resources may help attendees to evaluate their own behavior at contests. Creating hashtags like the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s “#SportsmanshipTogether” can unite athletes and spectators in a mission to uphold personal standards. Even photos or videos of students’ actions in applicable settings can help improve the atmosphere, and, as Garvis found, be very well received.

“Maybe the highest engagement I ever had was a video I took of our kids cleaning up the bleachers after an away football game,” he said. “Recognizing those things that our kids are doing – whether its great sportsmanship, just being good people or doing good things in the community – it goes way beyond athletics in general.”

Supporting various causes in the community can also be done effectively through social media. Showcasing students and teams volunteering at local food banks, spending time with local elementary school children, or banding together to support distressed area residents are all great ways to bridge the gap between school and community. Garvis detailed his own experience, along with the massive social media response that accompanied it.

“This year, we played a football game against a school that had a young lady pass away from cancer, so we tweeted out that all of our kids were going to wear yellow that night and that was huge for us,” he said. “We got retweets from all over the place.”


Lastly, activities directors can use social media to supplement their budgets through business partnerships and fundraising campaigns. When searching for prospective partners, local business entities present obvious targets.

“We do (a social media promotion) with an establishment in town that gives 10 percent of postgame sales back to us,” said Bissen of one football-season partnership. “And then recently, we had 19 different bands here on a Saturday and we partnered with another establishment that donated 10 percent (of all-day sales) back to us.”

With Glenwood’s proximity to much larger cities in Council Bluffs and Omaha, Nebraska, that often take business away from local eateries, there are clear mutual benefits to Bissen’s partnerships that strengthen relationships of goodwill.

“We’re 20 minutes from the big cities, so there’s a Buffalo Wild Wings just 15 minutes away that people can go to instead,” he said. “Through these partnerships, we fight that and try to keep money in town.”

In addition, business logos can be integrated into Box Out Sports templates as a viable method of advertising sponsors.

An example of a successful fundraiser is the Cardinals Forever Fundraising Campaign, an initiative Garvis ran as athletic director at Newton High School (NHS). In lieu of approaching local businesses that may see numerous teams from different schools, Garvis focused his campaign on accruing funds from an outside source – NHS’ alumni base.

He began by inviting the members of a former football state championship team to return to campus and be recognized at an upcoming game, and then covered the commemoration heavily on social media. After hosting several similar events and promoting them on Newton’s accounts, Garvis reaped a variety of benefits for his department.

“That was just something similar to what a lot of colleges do – reaching out and developing relationships with alumni,” he said. “There are so many people out there that have such a love and affinity for their school that we, as athletic directors, need to tap into that. It doesn’t always mean money, but it could lead to a former student-athlete coming back to coach or a non-athletics donation. We had one donation to our robotics team.”

An estimated 79 percent of Americans (223 million) currently own at least one social media profile, and anyone with a mobile device can share the action at high school events however they choose. With that in mind, perhaps the most impactful statement for indecisive administrators can be found in the subtitle of Bissen and Garvis’ showcase: “tell your story, or someone else will!”