Schools go social in a big way

Colleges connect fans to video board using new tool that collects social media photos

This article was written by Michael Smith and appeared originally in Sports Business Journal

More than 20 colleges have rolled out a new social media tool that gathers photos and instantly displays them online and at football games.

Using a software platform from Spredfast, a social marketing and technology company, the schools use hashtags to identify photos and flash them on the video boards inside their stadiums. The photos mostly come from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and include the text that accompanied the post.

Paciolan, a ticketing software company that has relationships with 110 Division I schools, works with Spredfast to market the social media product to the schools and service the accounts. The product is being marketed to college clients as PAC Social.

Spredfast, an Austin, Texas-based company that also works with most of the pro sports leagues, as well as networks and brands, has seen more interest from colleges in the past year to collect and distribute social media content.

“Professional leagues do this really well and they profit from it,” said Brian Foley, senior director of sports partnerships at Spredfast. “Now we’re starting to see colleges rally around the concept of treating social media as actual media content.”

Wisconsin fans who use the #Badgers hashtag can see their photos on the stadium video board. Photo by: COURTESY OF PACIOLAN

The University of Wisconsin is one school that jumped on board this year. The school installed Wi-Fi in Camp Randall Stadium this season for just this kind of fan engagement.

The school uses the Spredfast platform to seek out photos and other social chatter marked with #Badgers and displays them on the video board in the stadium or the 700 TVs throughout the concourse and premium areas.

Beyond entertaining the fans with photos, Wisconsin has found it to be a revenue stream as well. The school’s multimedia rights partner, Learfield Sports, sold a deal to Wisconsin Iron Workers Local 383 to sponsor the Ironman of the Game, a postgame poll that tracks votes on social media for the player who best fits the Ironman label.

The fan photo displays on the video boards are sponsored by Geico and Johnsonville. Photos appear on the video board once per quarter. Each sponsor has its branding attached to the photos for a half. Learfield sold those deals as well.

Wisconsin fans who use the #Badgers hashtag can see their photos on the stadium video board. Photo by: COURTESY OF PACIOLAN

“We’re giving fans the power to tell the story of their game day,” said Kevin Kluender, Wisconsin’s assistant athletic director for marketing and promotions. “We get photos from tailgating all the way through the game.”

Fan participation has varied. Florida State launched it last month using #Noles, and the hashtag was tweeted 18,500 times during its home opener. Those photos were used in venue, as well as online within a social media hub at

Michigan State uses #SpartanStudentSelfie to encourage students who arrive early for the game to send photos. Verizon sponsors the display on the video board.

Wisconsin hit 15,000 tweets with #Badgers during its opener.

Florida State also uses its #Noles photos on the website.

Typically, a school will have one or two employees within marketing or sports information monitor what goes on the video board. Spredfast’s filtering system searches for profanity or other words that the school wouldn’t want to appear. 

Pricing starts in the low five figures and can range as high as six figures, which includes more technology solutions and customized engagements from Spredfast.

Public address announcements and video board spots educate fans on how to get their photo on the screen.

“We’ve always had photos on Facebook and Twitter, but we’ve never had the ability to share them in-venue before,” said Jim Donatelli, Michigan State’s assistant director of sales and marketing. “Our students come in up to two hours before kickoff without a lot to do. This helps get them involved and keeps them entertained before the game.”

Craig Ricks, vice president of marketing at Paciolan, said the social media platform provides another extension for the company, which also works with schools on ticketing sales and marketing, fundraising and data capture.

“There’s an ocean of social content and it’s just a matter of having the tools to publish it,” Ricks said. “Capturing the fan voice is a huge trend we’re seeing across the college space and beyond.”

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