Rutgers Mimics Fyre Fest to Boost Football Awareness

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Given the school’s on-field struggles in recent years, you might be forgiven for forgetting the rich football tradition at Rutgers.

The school actually hosted the first college football game ever in November 1869, when it beat the College of New Jersey by a score of 6-4. To mark the sesquicentennial of that event and to stake its claim as the “birthplace of college football,” the school turned to social media to raise awareness and remind fans of its place in history.

Front Office Sports reports that Robert Roselli, the athletic director of marketing at Rutgers, was inspired to launch a brand awareness social media campaign based on the Fyre Festival — the much maligned music festival that, despite being a complete disaster of an event, leveraged social media to generate unprecedented buzz (and con quite a few people in the process).

“I think I always had it in the back of my head, ‘Wow, that was a pretty bold strategy, it generated a lot of buzz. How can we potentially mimic something?’ “ Roselli told Front Office Sports.

The Fyre Festival used so-called “influencers” to raise awareness for the event by posting a cryptic message on their Instagram profiles: a simple orange tile graphic and a hashtag. When those popular accounts all posted the same message — reaching millions of people — interest in the event spiked.

Roselli tasked marketing intern Sophia Tian with mimicking that campaign on a smaller scale.

“Obviously we don’t have Instagram models [or a] tropical lifestyle here at New Brunswick,” Tian told Front OFfice Sports. “How can we make students fear missing out and how can we catch their attention at first?”

Tian reached out to a group of friends on campus and asked them to post photos of themselves wearing a t-shirt with the simple slogan: “The Birthplace of College Football.” Later, a red tile similar to the Fyre Festival was used. The group of “influencers” expanded to more diverse students, and student-athletes themselves eventually jumped on board, as well.

Two days prior to the school’s spring game, the blitz began. Front Office Sports describes the three-step strategy:

First, photos of the shirts posted to the feed.

Next, the tile image posted to stories, along with the slogan in what Tian described as “obnoxiously small font.”

Finally, and perhaps most crucially — the shirts students had been seeing all over their social media feeds for hours were distributed to popular student bars just ahead of the Thursday night rush.

Roselli notes that the campaign was a huge success based on Google search data — which revealed a spike in queries for “birthplace of college football” around the time of the campaign.

“I think the awareness now sets their student body up for what’s to come next year,” Tian told Front Office Sports. “We are celebrating the 150th anniversary and we also want to capitalize on that message this whole year, this upcoming season. We want to make sure everyone knows that this is where it all started.”

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