Twitter Use by College Football Coaches: An Examination of the Football Bowl Subdivision

By Zimmerman, Matthew; Johnson, James et al. | Journal of Contemporary Athletics, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Twitter Use by College Football Coaches: An Examination of the Football Bowl Subdivision


Zimmerman, Matthew, Johnson, James, Ridley, Megan, Journal of Contemporary Athletics


Introduction

College football is the main economic driver for the upper echelon of National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I athletic departments (Sanderson, 2013), with combined revenue from the top 15 earners among football programs surpassing $1 billion (Donahoe, 2012). As the faces of their respective universities, high-level college football coaches are among the most well-compensated employees both of the state in which they reside, and in all of the coaching profession (Fischer-Baum, 2013). Coaches for the most popular and successful Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs are often regarded as celebrities, and are regularly discussed in popular media (Vint, 2013). From a salary standpoint, Alabama's Nick Saban, Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Urban Meyer (Ohio State) and Les Miles (Louisiana State) each make more than $4 million per year. The high salaries also extend to coaches who have not won national or conference titles. Kirk Ferentz, who in 15 seasons has never led Iowa to an outright Big Ten championship, a Rose Bowl berth or a national championship, makes $3.9 million per year. High salaries are not merely restricted to the upper tier. The 44th-highest paid coach as of the start of the 2013 season was Jim Mora of UCLA at $2 million per year (Warner, 2013). Coaches' salaries increased greatly in recent years, due largely to an influx in funds from the Bowl Championship Series. Saban's new contract will pay the coach $7 million per year, an exponential leap from the $700,000 he made as Michigan State coach in the late 1990s. In 1999, five college football coaches earned at least $1 million per year. This number increased to 70 in 2013 (Schrotenboer, 2014).

Given the popularity of big-time college football programs and their coaches, the opportunity to establish a presence on social media can be important to a variety of stakeholders. For example, many college recruits and players regularly utilize social media, thus making this communication medium an important staging ground in the recruiting landscape (Megargee, 2014). Similarly, fans have instant access to social media posts whereby they learn new information from coaches before it is reported in mainstream media (Burns, 2013).

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema sought to engage the Razorbacks' fanbase through social media soon after arriving from the University of Wisconsin in 2013. Arkansas has been the No. 10 revenue-producing football program in the nation, with an intake of more than $60 million in both 2010 and 2011 (Donahoe, 2012; Gaines, 2013). Before coaching a single game for the Razorbacks, Bielema was utilizing Twitter to Retweet photos from fans including Razorback-related tattoos, people wearing Arkansas clothing in different locales, and a hog-shaped cake (Wilson, 2013). Bielema's use of Twitter quickly impacted his program. The cover of the team's 2013 media guide featured Bielema and three players, listing their individual Twitter addresses and the program's main Twitter feed, @RazorbackFB (Sherman, 2013). For his part, Bielema described his Twitter use as educating people who engage him on the social media platform (Carvell, 2013).

Unlike some coaches, who have minimal if any interaction with fans, Bielema will respond via Twitter to fan messages both positive and negative (Muma, 2013). Bielema also illustrated the use of social media as a public relations tool when he used Twitter to clarify remarks he made at an Arkansas booster club meeting indicating that he did not take the job coaching the Razorbacks just to play Alabama, but rather to defeat the then-two-time defending national champion. Though his comments were reported by national media, Bielema wrote on Twitter that he had been having fun in the spirit of such an event (Carvell, 2013).

Due to the multifaceted use of social media, and Twitter in particular, many FBS football coaches like Bielema have amassed a large social media following (Myerberg, 2012). Bielema has more than 85,000 Twitter followers. …

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