Two Sides To Preseason Hype
We live in the age of hype.
That statement itself doesn’t measure up to the amount of bombast and promotion that surrounds, and sometimes intrudes, on our everyday lives, though. In order to do so, it should be accompanied by a video with splashy graphics, a bumping backbeat and an easily digestible message that attempts to burn itself into your brain. It might also single out individuals as worthy of special attention, using analytics and quotes from others as evidence of even more special accomplishments to come.
This being an attempt to look at the hype from a dispassionate standpoint, though, we’ll dispense with that and instead get to the meat of the discussion. Is preseason hype a good thing, a bad thing, or something in between?
Our angle of view will encompass the WVU athletics scene, and the ways in which preseason anticipation and promotion can help or hurt the program as a whole. In the end, it’s probably up to the individual viewer, and the perspective each holds, to make a judgement on whether or not the barrage of messages is a net positive or negative.
First, the good – and there’s a lot of it.
In today’s culture, getting the word out is vital. Promotion, advertising and generation of excitement is key for any business looking to generate followers and revenue, and college athletic departments have responded in force. Most every Division I school has a group of people responsible for generating social media content, graphics and videos that highlight achievements and pump up interest in upcoming seasons. WVU has been very good in this arena, and is moving into high gear for the upcoming football (and later, basketball) seasons. It’s not difficult to find something most every day, especially considering that the Mountaineers are in preseason Top 25s in both football and men’s basketball.
Without a doubt, the buzz generated by these items can be beneficial. For the school, it can boost ticket sales – and while not being too cynical, that’s the point of some of the school-generated content. It also can help the image of the school as a whole, and not just because there’s the hope of a successful season in the offing. For example, West Virginia’s athletic teams continue to improve in the classroom, and have raised their Academic Progress Rate (APR) by 10 points over the last three seasons. Combined, WVU’s varsity teams have compiled a score of 984 points (out of a possible 1000), which is the University’s highest mark in the 14 years of the APR’s existence.
“The continued increase in our scores is a testament to our academic support unit, our student-athletes and our coaching staffs,” athletic director Shane Lyons said at the time of this year’s release. “We continue to climb with school-best marks and to be above the national average each year.”
Such items don’t get as much play as say, a highlight reel of Sagaba Konate blocked shots, but they are another point of pride for WVU, and reinforce the idea that the school is succeeding in its mission both athletically and academically. It all helps get the message out, and reinforces the notion that the Mountaineers are as successful as many other public land-grant institutions.
Social media blitzes also resonate more with millennials and Generation Z, so it’s natural that schools continue to work to draw in younger faces to bolster aging fanbases. In this instance, the means of communication is probably just as important as the content, with the goal of keeping West Virginia at the top of mind (and the top of everyone’s feeds) the number one objective. Again, WVU has done very well here, winning awards for its graphics content and excellent video compilations. The worst thing that can happen in this area is to be invisible, and that’s not the case for the Mountaineers’ presence in the arena.
One of the more interesting decisions that West Virginia has made for this season is the unveiling of a site promoting quarterback Will Grier for the Heisman Trophy. To be launched on – naturally – 7/7, the Grier site figures to include stats, photos and videos, and comments from college football cognoscenti. It will likely be similar, at least in content, to the Baker Mayfield site run by the Oklahoma athletic department a year ago.
— WVU Football (@WVUfootball) June 1, 2018
The decision to launch this campaign was one of a group variety at West Virginia, including the football coaching staff as well as members of the sports information staff and the athletic department as a whole. From that decision, a committee was formed, headed by Director of Football Communications Mike Montoro, to develop the site. A staff of seven others, including Deputy Athletic Director Keli Zinn, Senior Associate Athletic Director for communications Michael Fragale, Director of Athletic Publications Joe Swan, Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing Nathaniel Zinn, Digital Media Manager Grant Dovey, Digitial Media Specialist Kristin Coldsnow and Video Producer Sean Merinar have been meeting and working since February to plan and create the content.
“We’re going to focus on Will the person, both on and off the field,” said Montoro, who noted that the emphasis won’t be on just stats and highlights. “Of course, we’ll update as the season goes along, and we feel that this is the best way in today’s world to get the information out to as wide an audience as possible.
Such sites are an outgrowth of the promotion campaigns that have been run for Heisman candidate for many years. When the idea first started to promote players for the Heisman, the items usually consisted of handouts and mailings in the pre-Internet days. WVU got on board that train when Jeff Hostetler was quarterbacking the Mountaineers, producing the tagline “West Virginia’s Offensive Bonanza” that was featured on notebook, covers and card handouts prior to and during the 1983 season. There was even a record “The Ballad of West Virginia’s Jeff Hostetler,” sung buy Mark Newhouse and Brad Reeves to the tune of the Bonanza theme song.
At the end of the decade, the process repeated itself with Major Harris, who led WVU to an undefeated regular season in 1988. The following year, regular mailings with updated stats were made to Heisman and All-American voters.
Did all that help? Hostetler finished seventh in the 1983 voting, and Harris fifth in 1988 and third in 1989, so it certainly didn’t hurt. It also helped draw attention to the Mountaineer program as a whole, which was making its first steps in emerging from the shadows of Pitt and Penn State to become more than just a program playing an eastern football schedule.
As the world moved into the digital age, these sorts of items gave way to CD and DVDs, which included highlights and stats. The promotional efforts then moved to almost exclusive online efforts as video became widely available, especially on mobile devices. That, according to Montoro, gives the best value in return, as it makes the content available both to voters and to the general public.
Now we come to the bad – or perhaps more accurately, the unintended side effects and consequences.
Chief among these is the potential creation of unreasonable expectations, and of disillusionment when results on the field or the court don’t match the stylish productions. Although none of the items predict huge win totals or big postseason performances, the connection is inescapable. After watching videos of great plays over and over, with nary a fumble or a missed shot in sight, and the message is quite effective driven home. “This is going to be our year,” the brain thinks, and it’s reinforced time and again.
Of course, reality often falls a bit short of a touchdown, a sack or a dunk on every possession, and inevitably we’ll hear things like this:
“Everyone said that WVU was going to be great this year. How did they lose to Texas Tech?”
That’s not really a fair criticism, although it is human nature. There’s not a tie or a causal effect between promotion and generating excitement for a season and the results that occur when the season is actually played, but from the fan’s perspective it is a logical leap.
(It’s also why we at BlueGoldNews.com strive to be objective in our coverage, and point out shortcomings as well as strengths.)
That short term disgruntlement usually disappears in the offseason, though, when anticipation for a new start overrides most bad memories.
There’s also the danger of message dilution, although in today’s short attention span world that doesn’t seem to be as big of a concern. Send out too many tweets, and they might get ignored as part of the background noise rather than consumed as intended. That is something WVU is conscious of, but it also wants to make sure that its message is heard. It will also spread around the attention – while there won’t be websites created for every award candidate, Montoro and the sports communication staff will make sure that promotion is created for others, as it did with David Sills and the Biletnikoff Award, and Jevon Carter for the NABC and Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Awards in 2017.
In the end, the decision to generate preseason content and highlight the players and experience at games becomes an easy decision, at least from this view. Failure to do so is to ignore a massive opportunity. There is the potential for some backlash and grumbling if things don’t go as well as hoped, but that is far outweighed by the positive effects of getting the school’s name, and those of its stars, into the public discussion. That, as much as the actual performance on the field, is the name of the game in this second decade of the 21st century.