The Story Behind @HuskerFBNation’s Tweet Honoring Sam Foltz

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Sam Foltz

Nebraska punter Sam Foltz died in a car accident in July.

How do you capture emotional moments in sports? You trust your instincts, and follow the lead of those playing the game.

That’s just part of the story behind a pretty special Nebraska Football tweet, which marked a truly incredible moment in the young 2016 college football season.

On the Husker’s first punt of the season, the team honored punter Sam Foltz, who weeks earlier died in a car accident, along with fellow punter and former Michigan State player Mike Sadler. Instead of sending out a full special teams squad of 11, the team chose to send just ten — honoring their late teammate. Officials called a delay of game penalty, which opponent Fresno State declined. Nebraska fans honored Foltz with cheers and tears.

It was easily the most emotional scene of week one in college football, and perhaps of the past few seasons. It was also a heartfelt, agonized-over, tear-jerking moment, which quickly spread from Memorial Stadium to social media.

The same emotion shone through in how the team chose to share this gesture with its social media followers. The team’s tweet (see below) was simple, but absolutely on point for the moment — an equally heartfelt and tear-jerking piece of social media poetry.

And not surprisingly, it spread like wildfire across Twitter and beyond.

“There’s been talk for a few weeks about that game, and how best to honor Sam,” Kelly Mosier, assistant athletic director of digital communication at the University of Nebraska, told Fourth and 140. “I always let the players and coaches take the lead, and then try and tell their story. This was no different.”

Mr. Mosier, who wrote the tweet, says there was extra care taken with this particular post, given the magnitude of the moment. It was something he wanted to get just right.

Kelly Mosier

Kelly Mosier is assistant athletic director of digital communication at the University of Nebraska.

“I wrote a first draft of the tweet on Wednesday [Aug. 31], saved it in my drafts on my phone, and would go back to it all week to reread it,” Mosier says. “It was a special moment. I wanted to be sure to do it justice, knowing that everyone else would be talking about what happened. I wanted to give the why it happened. And tell the guys’ story on it.”

It’s not always easy separating work from emotion, and this story is filled with it. Nebraska is a close-knit community, and Mosier knew it would affect him as much as anyone else — maybe more.

“I choked up every time I opened my drafts, so that’s how I knew I had it right. 

“Sam had such a huge impact on so many people here that his passing has been pretty emotional. “But, a team is a family. And when things are tough, you lean on your family,” Mosier says. “At Nebraska, we have a big team that extends to a very passionate fan base. So the family we lean on is very big and very supportive.”

That family got a little bigger Saturday, thanks to the touching tribute and the tweet heard ’round college football. At publish time, Mosier’s beautifully crafted post has generated more than 37,000 retweets and nearly 70,000 likes. It’s also been used in numerous news stories, as appropriate — and poetic — background for readers.

“Social has been a great way to remember Sam,” Mosier says. “Everything he stood for. And tell others about how special he was. I hope I was able to do my small part of that on Saturday.”

Leading social media is not easy work. When you hear about the people behind the accounts, it’s usually because of some unfortunate misstep. But there are real people running these accounts — folks like Kelly Mosier and his staff at the University of Nebraska — people with a genuine passion for what they do and the teams, leagues and players they represent.

Their work matters — to them and to sports. Thanks for the reminder, Kelly.

And… thank you all for being fans.

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The Uplifting Tweets to Michigan Punter Blake O’Neill You Probably Didn’t See

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Twitter logo

What if, on your worst day ever at work, hundreds of people took to social media to ridicule and shout you down? What if some of those posts were hateful, violent and disgusting?

Some say Saturday was University of Michigan punter Blake O’Neill’s worst day ever.

The fifth-year senior, rugby-style punter from Melbourne, Australia, fumbled a snap during the final seconds of the game against rival Michigan State.

The play astounded the college football world and lit up social media immediately. Astonishment, however, quickly turned much darker. So-called fans and others posted hateful vitriol on Twitter — which national news media quickly reported with sensational headlines. Some tweets included death threats.

This is the awful side of social media — the one you hear about from the media. The one that gets passed around the echo chamber that Twitter can often become when these seemingly unbelievable and equally emotionally-charged plays occur in sports. It’s the same one that makes people shake their collective heads and discourage student-athletes from using the platforms.

But an interesting thing happened in the hours since Mr. O’Neill’s fateful fumble. Twitter — it turns out — has a softer side. It’s one you won’t likely read about on your favorite sports news site.

Blake O’Neill is human, and — yes — he had a pretty awful day. But it’s just a game, and today is a new day. And some people — many more than you probably realize — are letting Blake O’Neill know that.

Twitter sentiment around Blake O'Neill's tweets was actually 75 percent (or more) positive.

Twitter sentiment around Blake O’Neill’s tweets was actually 75 percent (or more) positive. (Via Sentiment140)

In fact, sentiment around Mr. O’Neill’s Twitter mentions was trending 75 percent positive, as more and more tweets of encouragement began pouring in.

It’s quite remarkable when you begin to actually read some of the heartfelt and uplifting tweets — coming from Michigan fans, but also others who have no reason to tweet a student-athlete, other than to give him some encouragement following a pretty horrible day. So, here are a few more.

https://twitter.com/willydacoach/status/655748649889210368

It’s never OK to post death threats or other hateful messages — especially directed toward student-athletes. If you see these tweets, report the user to Twitter and encourage your followers to do the same.

But my point is — don’t throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to sports and social media. Seek the good and you’ll be surprised how many others like you are out there. Social media has a definite dark side. But not all of us are drawn to it.

Thanks for being a fan.

Coaches Who Impose Social Media Bans Miss the Mark

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Twitter ban

Coaches and college administrators who impose social media bans are failing their student-athletes.

Social media is a learning lab for anyone willing to dedicate time, attention and passion to it. Name the interest, and you can find and learn from people, content and events shared across today’s platforms.

So why do coaches and administrators — at institutions of higher learning no less — continue to demonize social media and the opportunities they provide?

ESPN recently reported Clemson and Florida State banned all social media for the 2015 college football season. For FSU, this continues an in-season stoppage started in 2011. “We don’t need any distractions. It’s no big deal,” one Clemson player told The Post and Courier about the ban.

In 2015, this confounds me as a sports fan, and as a communications and social media advisor to senior business executives.

Let me be crystal clear: When used appropriately, social media is not a distraction but rather a tool to help achieve your goals. For every reason a coach can dream up to ban social media, I can find multiple counter-arguments that make it worthwhile — even in-season.

Here are three gold standard rebuttals:

1. Teachable Moments

College students are in school to learn. There is no better time or opportunity to teach them about social media — and I mean everything about social media. Missteps happen, but as I’ve written here previously, social media mistakes are not forever. Done right, education can provide players (and coaches) with the ability to effectively use social media — no matter the season.

Create curriculum that highlights these teachable moments — hire someone if necessary! Recognize past mistakes but learn from them and become better. Talk as a team about parameters and safety nets that are already part of your culture of winning. Be there for one another on the field, in the classroom — and online.

“The best strategy is to educate. Help them understand just how big social media is, that the world can see every tweet,” writes Kevin DeShazo, founder of Fieldhouse Media and author of iAthlete: Impacting Student-Athletes of a Digital Generation. “Banning your players from tweeting is taking the lazy way out, and it’s doing your student-athletes a disservice.”

2. Life Skills

From the highest-profile student-athlete (like the one who may someday play professionally) to the Division III bench-warmer, social media provides life skills that translate beyond the playing field and classroom. Social media reinforces basic writing and grammar. It opens doors for creativity and expression in photography, video and design. It provides opportunities to deal with sometimes volatile negative feedback, to learn from adversity or to manage distractions during stressful times. 

These are all things student-athletes encounter in the regular experiences of college life — and eventually life after college. Let social media add to the richness of those experiences.

“A player’s social media account, and, by extension, his smartphone, is the compass through which he navigates the world,” writes Zach Barnett, college football writer for FootballScoop.com. “Might as well teach him how to read it.”

3. Personal Branding

Perhaps social media’s most important asset is personal branding. Instead of teaching student-athletes to fear it, instill in them the skills to put social media to work for them — to set them up for success in life after graduation.

A coherent and upbeat Twitter or Instagram feed provides potential employers, business partners and friends with a better look into your world than anyone else can provide. This isn’t about creating a a facade but rather enhancing how you interact with people face-to-face. It’s an asset that — as sports business writer Kristi Dosh notes — 93 percent of employers check before making a hiring decision.

Student-athletes have 100 percent control of that message! And for those few elite athletes, social media may one day be the place they can make — and break — their own news. This is already happening! (Just ask Tom Brady about it).

Some sports leaders make sure to provide guidelines and education for their athletes — while not banning it. Guys like George O’Leary at the University of Central Florida get it. While he doesn’t use social media personally, O’Leary embraces the learning opportunity it presents his players. “That’s part of life. That’s part of teaching,” he said recently. “I do give out dos-and-don’ts on social media to them. What they should do and what they shouldn’t do. I would never ban that.”

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long gets it, too, and even took to Twitter to counter the recent news of social media bans.

Demonizing social media does not benefit the student-athlete. Instead, tackling the issues associated with social media reinforces a learning environment and opens doors to new opportunities. Let’s coach our student-athletes to succeed at life, not just sports.

Thanks for being a fan.

Front Office Sports Opens Doors for Aspiring Sports Business Pros

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Front Office Sports logo

Front Office Sports is a resource for students and young professionals in which they can access our extensive database of informational interviews, infographics, and tips.

Sports business people give, and give, and give some more. Why else would a guy with few connections and little experience get to talk with talented, smart people in a highly competitive industry?

Four years ago, that guy was me. I took a chance, started a blog and hoped to fill a couple voids. One was an outlet for writing, which I desperately needed. The second helped fill a gap, because few were covering this curious intersection of sports and social media.

It was uncharted territory. Yet there was a community here, with plenty of guides willing to help me find my way … willing to share and give.

Since then, an explosion of social media in sports led to other voices in this space, and it’s been incredible watching so many with similar passions approach topics affecting the fans consuming the content, as well as those creating it. Talented people like Sunny CadwalladerJessica Smith, Neil Horowitz, Bob McKamey, Tariq Ahmad, Kevin DeShazo and many others.

While it’s a seemingly small pond, it can feel like a vast ocean for those trying to make a splash — and a career — in it today. Adam White likely had that feeling a year ago when he founded Front Office Sports, an educational resource for students and young professionals interested in sports careers. More than just a blog or Twitter feed, FOS is a community that connects the industry’s big fish with those hoping to make it big.

“People who work day in and day out to make all of this happen deserve to have their stories told,” Mr. White told Fourth and 140 recently. “When we think of interviews, we think of players and not actually people behind the scenes. That is why our motto is ‘the game behind the game’ because we are telling the stories of the people who are working behind the scenes.”

Mr. White wanted to create a resource to connect professionals and students on a more personal level, a seed planted by his professors at the University of Miami-Florida.

Adam White photo

Adam White is the founder of Front Office Sports.

“Many times I heard, ‘Connections are so important in our line of work because the industry is so small’,” says White, who juggles his FOS duties with a part-time job and full class schedule at Miami. “I figured if I was going to talk to people, why not share their insight with everyone, so those who were too afraid to reach out or didn’t have the means to could still learn everything I was learning. The whole idea was to help myself learn and give others opportunities to work on the blog while educating others at no cost or effort to them.”

Front Office Sports recently celebrated its first year of operation, and using a team of contributors, now cranks out content daily.

“We cover everything from how they got their start, to their favorite memories, to tips for students,” White says. “This content is important because it is relevant, real and not sugar-coated. The people we interview keep things clear and straight-up, which gives those who read it an unadulterated view as to what sports business is all about and if it is actually for them.”

In the past six months, White says Front Office Sports went from averaging 100 visitors a week to more than 100 per day. He credits the growth to quality content from volunteer staff contributors who also use their networks to draw in new readers — and new content.

“It has been remarkable to see the reaction of those in the industry,” White says. “They didn’t have to do it, yet they chose to take anywhere from 30 minutes to sometimes two hours out of their day to speak with us.”

White freely admits he hasn’t made money from the site, but believes the connections he’s building are invaluable. After a year of publishing, people now reach out to FOS, offering to contribute articles or share stories. In the coming year, he hopes to post more video interviews, establish Google Hangout panels, sell FOS merchandise, and start a scholarship — among an ambitious list of goals.

A true student of the industry, White says building Front Office Sports provides incredible learning opportunities, fueled by a sports community willing to share their time and talents. It’s not unlike the journey I’ve taken — albeit as a non-traditional student of the sports business game.

“Without FOS, there is no way I would have been able to talk to over 110 professionals from across the globe,” White says. “These people are such a well-connected group, but a group that is never afraid to reach out and lend a helping hand. They’ve not only helped catapult FOS to where it is now, but have truly impacted many other lives. That is a true testament to their characters and personalities.” 

I couldn’t agree more, Adam.

Thanks to this community for being so gracious … and thank you for being a fan.

#q1SFE15 in Review: There Is No Off-Season for Sports and Social Media

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The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum is March 2-3 in Kansas City.

The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum was held March 2-3 in Kansas City.

I’ve caught up on my sleep and let my brain process the knowledge dropped at the second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum, held this week in Kansas City. Like last year, it was a chance to meet in real life people I admire — and have come to know thanks to social media.

#Q1SFE15 was also a chance to immerse myself in the sports fan’s experience, because after all, that’s what this blog is all about. Here’s what I learned — as a media partner, social media professional and fan — from a talented group of sports and social media leaders.

The Sports Fan is Boss

Whether it’s creating an incredible game-day experience or providing engaging social media content year-round, sports teams and leagues have the fan in mind with nearly everything they do. It begins with game day, but involves so much more. From tailgating, to in-stadium WiFi, to off-season social media content — and everything in-between: The sports fan craves what teams and leagues have.

At Nebraska, football game day is one of seven “state holidays,” according to Kelly Mosier, director of digital communications for the Huskers, who recently upgraded the team’s stadium to HD WiFi. This is tables stakes for teams now, even if it’s just satisfying a vocal minority of fans.

“Cell phones are this generation’s portable radio for fans,” Mr. Mosier said. “[Football] is more than us. It’s a community event. Even if it’s happening outside our stadium, we have ability to be part of that conversation.”

Mosier and his team monitor real-time social media feeds using sophisticated queries. The result is a plethora of engagement opportunities, and the ability to showcase the Husker product for fans unable to be in Lincoln on game day. This includes amplifying user-generated content and providing glimpses of fan activity that can produce authentic but also viral moments.

“We’re letting our fans across the country know it’s awesome to be at the game,” adds Mr. Mosier.

Create a Memorable Experience

The Indy Fuel are re-introducing professional hockey to Indianapolis, which presents much different challenges than an established sports brand like Nebraska football. “For us to be successful long term, we need to provide an experience that beings fans back,” says Lee Dicklitch, vice president of operations and fan experience for the Fuel. “We must share an experience that gets people to notice, and that ensures we don’t lose equity with our fans that we’ve worked hard to build up.”

The Fuel used an on-ice introduction video (see below) that puts an exclamation point on the need to amaze fans in-venue — because this might be the team’s only shot at creating a long-term fan of the franchise.

Sports is Always On: Embrace It

Game day is just part of the fan experience equation. Pre-game, post-game, off-season, training camp, free agency, signing day … you name it, fans want it.

TJ Ansley of the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers talks about ways to keep fans engaged in the off-season through social media.

TJ Ansley of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers talks about ways to keep fans engaged in the off-season through social media.

“There is no off-season anymore,” says TJ Ansley, director of digital media for NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. The team — under Ansley’s creative leadership — produces a crazy amount of content after the last buzzer sounds and before the pre-season tips off.

This can include re-purposing content from the previous season, or creating original photos essays, video recaps, highlight stats and team podcasts.

The Trail Blazers even played “hashtag games” as a fun and engaging way to generate conversation and collaborate with other NBA teams. The activity trending each time on Twitter — despite happening during a slow-called slow period.

But really, there is no down time for sports. No quiet period. No vacations. And that means there is no off-season for sports and social media. The demand has only increased from fans looking for ways to connect with their favorite players, teams and leagues — and with other fans.

It also stems from the growing role social media plays in our everyday lives. FOMO — or the fear of missing out what’s happening on social media — is something teams and leagues can capitalize on during slower times, to ensure fans stay connected and engaged through social.

What’s Next? Let the Fan Decide

Some believe social media will become a “profit center” and generate more revenue than any other channel. These opinions — and the activities behind them — were also part of #q1SFE15 discussions. However, I’m not sold on those speculations, and I’m not going into detail about them here. The ability to predict sports and social media trends is an act of folly. The fan will decide. [Click to tweet.]

What’s certain is social media — in whatever shape or form it becomes — has a place in sports and in the sports fan’s life. It’s up to the smart folks who attended #q1SFE15 — and their colleagues across the industry — to deliver what the fan wants.

Thanks for being a fan.

A post script: My thanks to Q1 Sports for including Fourth And 140 as a media partner for the 2015 Sports Fan Engagement Forum. One of my favorite things to do is meet people — in real life — that I’ve come to know through social media. And this event provided another one of those opportunities. 

A group of #q1SFE15 participants shared a meal together after the first day of the forum.

A group of #q1SFE15 participants shared a meal together after the first day of the forum. (Photo via @LisaMBregman)