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Eric Peterson, Published January 03 2011

Area colleges using social networking sites to boost athletics

Go to the athletic websites for Concordia and Minnesota State Moorhead and these icons are easy to find on the home page – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr.

Those icons represent social networking, video sharing and photo sharing websites that are becoming required tools for colleges and universities to promote their athletic programs.

They are valuable extensions of a school’s primary website.

“The biggest thing for us is the cost effectiveness,” said Concordia sports information director Jim Cella. “It’s free. To be able to reach as many people as we can on these sites for nothing is huge.”

Jon Wepking, the MSUM media relations assistant for social networking and marketing, moved into that role this summer as the Dragons have beefed up their presence on social networking sites.

“Social networking was one of the original concerns,” said Wepking, who was an assistant men’s basketball coach for the Dragons last season.

“It’s the instant version of the Christmas letter,” MSUM athletic director Doug Peters said of the social networking tools. “I can go online and see what’s going on.”

MSUM started its “Scorch” Facebook page (named after the school’s mascot) last school year, a page where all Dragons athletic news is flowed. This year, they have become more specialized, having added Facebook pages for each individual MSUM sport.

“If I was a parent and I just wanted to follow the basketball team, I can follow the basketball team,” Wepking said. “We want more fans to be able to interact in more ways.”

Wepking said the “Scorch” page has doubled its followers from this summer and is nearing 1,000.

“The students are checking on it constantly,” Peters said of Facebook. “That’s how they plan their schedule. That’s how they go to events.”

The numbers back that up.

Wepking said 66 percent of the Dragons’ Facebook demographic is between the ages of 18 and 24.

One of the main reasons Concordia created a Facebook page for its athletics was to reach students and get them involved.

“The thing I wanted to go to Facebook for is I wanted to get more support from our college kids because they didn’t know when a soccer game was or they didn’t know when a hockey game was,” Cella said. “I have seen increased attendance for the student base because of it.”

Exact figures on student attendance at athletic events are not kept at Concordia, however Cella said he’s noticed increased student attendance at the school’s lower-profile athletic programs like soccer, volleyball and baseball.

The Dragons have also used Facebook to increase student attendance.

Social networking isn’t limited to kids either. Wepking said more than 30 percent of their Facebook audience comes from people who are 35 years and older. The 35 to 44 years age group makes up about 14 percent of the audience, Wepking said.

Video is also playing a larger role. Both Concordia (cobberathletics) and MSUM (DragonAthleticsTV) have their own YouTube channels that feature content like game highlights and interviews with coaches and players.

“The nice thing with the YouTube channel is when we send the cameras with the kids,” Wepking said. “It gives fans a behind-the-scenes look. It puts a face on Dragons athletics.”

Flickr, a photo sharing site, has proved to be a big hit for Concordia followers. Cella said photo galleries from a basketball game usually get around 300 hits. Some football photo galleries have accumulated more than 3,000 hits, according to Cella.

“That dwarfs anything we get for hits that deals with individual games,” said Cella, who has been the Concordia SID since 2001.

Cella said the popularity of social networking and sharing sites have changed the way he does his job over his 10 years.

There was a time where “90 percent of the stuff we sent out was to the media,” Cella said. That percentage has gone down considerably.

“It’s like now we are skipping the middle man,” Cella said. “Instead of reaching the media, we can go to the people right now.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found

at peterson.areavoices.com