In the time since Larry Scott took over as Pac 12 Commissioner, the league has emerged as a leader and an innovator in virtually every area of the business of college athletics. League expansion, marketing to a larger fan base in the central and eastern United States, mew media deals, a strong push to have member schools do a better job of telling their success stories nationally, proactive sponsorship and partnerships that promoted both the academic and athletic side of the conference are all big steps for a league which was sometimes an afterthought in the competitive world of big business and college sports. Even with all that success, the first Pac 12 football championship promised to be a bit of a dud, pairing UCLA and its lame duck coach Rick Neuheisel against the high flying BCS bound Oregon Ducks on their home field. With a national audience on Fox on a Friday, what little things could the league do to draw some interest to a game which is supposed to create enthusiasm and celebrate all things positive about the league this year? How about a little twitter contest?
The league used their digital and social platforms to call for the casual fan, as well as those supporting UCLA nd Oregon, to get into a little hashtag battle. They aggressively promoted #GoBruins and #GoDucks to a national following, with the hope that the digital world would follow the back and forth and add a little spice to a contest which most viewed as a blowout. The result of the hashtag battle probably was more interesting that the result on the field, which Oregon predictably won 49-31. While the Oregon hashtag’s percentage dominated the matchup 85-15, the coverage that the following got was very notable, including a national mention on Fox as the game ended. The Pac 12 gained more casual followers and was able to take a good look at who the most ardent, and largest twitter followers who participated were, and those followers can be invaluable in garnering grassroots support for programs going forward. They also got to see how national a footprint the two schools have in social media, and are also able to use this contest as a litmus test for marketers looking to engage in a social media strategy going forward. Keep in mind this was not a key rivalry game. The social media battle for a USC-UCLA or Harvard-Yale or even Army-Navy (given the military’s international footprint) would be much more intriguing and probably a lot more valuable to a brand.
Regardless of the overall outcome, the hashtag battle was a great test for the Pac 12 to drum up a little more interest and test an idea with big upside and no downside. It showed brands and schools that there is fun and value in working to promote interest and even drive viewers by cross promoting, and the league probably learned more about who and where they are being followed. Needless to say this won’t be the last or the most sophisticated battle online in sport, but it was another smart next step for a league which seems to have a better grip on the future and on engagement than many of the others in the space. A win for Oregon, and a nice win for the Pac 12 as well.