The University of Central Florida Knights are leading the charge when it comes to creativity in digital and social media. Eric DeSalvo, Assistant Athletic Director in charge of #content, and his team had a clear vision and strategy at the start of 2020 – to promote on-and-off-the-field access of UCF student-athletes.
“We’re the only Division 1 FBS school with winning records in our head to head sports three straight years and thankfully it ended that way again, “DeSalvo explained. “We also wanted to take advantage of those big wins on the field. Game days are huge for all of our sports accounts and all of our spring sports were in the midst of having probably their best seasons yet.”
Baseball and softball were in position to host postseason tournaments, tennis was having an unbelievable season, and rowing was set to compete for its sixth straight conference title. Sharing those major moments was in the works along with building up the student-athletes.
“Through Opendorse, we are able to get them the content, helping them celebrate those wins on-and-off-the-field, as well as educate them on telling their stories while having success on the field,” he said.
We didn’t want to rush and flood the feeds.
As March approached and spring breaks were heating up, the world, including athletics, was caught in the middle of the current global pandemic, COVID-19.
Sports came to a screeching halt and for DeSalvo and his team, that meant taking a step back. What was the content strategy going to look like going forward? How would they keep fans engaged without sounding tone-deaf to the situation at hand?
“We didn’t want to rush and flood the feeds,” he said. “We knew we’d be in this situation for a little bit. So, we came up with a strategy a couple of times a week posting relevant information when we had it as well as tapping into the nostalgia and to the throwbacks.”
One of those content ideas is entitled “The Shield.” The series takes a student-athlete perspective of what life was like during this time. DeSalvo and his team chose to share their stories of a shortened spring sports season and get their raw emotion from that.
Another new series titled “rewatches” brought great moments in UCF history back to the fans from the players’ perspective. These clips included commentary from current and former student-athletes, as well as the Knight’s play-by-play voice Marc Daniels.
“If you can make something that is entertaining and informing at the same time, then job well done,” DeSalvo said. “We tried to think of how we could present pertinent information that we’re trying to get across, but in an entertaining way. Whether that’s through the copy of a tweet, by bringing in some pop culture, or a meme; we will do it to try and get our point across to help build up our programs.
Covering the Combine & NFL Draft
Prior to the sports world shutting down, the NFL Combine took place in Indianapolis during the last week of February and into the first two days of March. With two former players at the event, DeSalvo and UCF Senior Producer Dalton Conrad were able to haul in a slew of content over the course of the event including photos, video features, and highlights.
“We were able to put packages together for those guys,” DeSalvo said. “Those who didn’t get the invite and saw their pro days canceled, we felt horrible about that. We did our best to put out information about them, as well as pre-draft interviews with Sami Kincaid to help get out their stories of what they’ve been going through in that time.”
Those storylines continued to build as the NFL draft loomed and the Knights’ dreams of hearing their names called or signing a free agent contract became a reality.
The preparation came about two weeks prior as DeSalvo met with UCF Content Designer’s Sahaid Alpizar and Emma Schneider to determine which NFL Draft ideas they wanted to see come to life.
They were able to craft their posts using the mobile app, and it was awesome.
“The thing about the draft is you don’t know where your guys are going to go and when they are going to go,” he said. “It is important to have all scenarios covered having the highlight videos with all 32 teams’ looks. So at a moment’s notice, if your player gets drafted to a team, you’ve got it all ready and can hit send right away… and that’s what we did.”
DeSalvo and his team were able to collect some intel from players about which teams were most likely to select them.
“We were able to share out a bunch of content that we had created beforehand and it really helped, especially the illustration of Gabe in a Buffalo Bills jersey,” he explained. “Once he was drafted, we hit send right away on his highlight video and like a minute or two later hit send on that illustration. The Buffalo Bills picked that up and repurposed it on their accounts, too, which is huge.”
When it came to those Knights who weren’t drafted, DeSalvo was steadfast in his communication with them.
“They kept me up to date where they were going and who they were signing with so that I could get that content,” he said. “We used Opendorse for them. They were able to craft their posts using the mobile app, and it was awesome. They were able to get it out there right away to reap the benefits and rack up the engagements, so it was cool to help them tell their story one of the biggest moments of their lives.”
With the Draft in the rearview and spring sports season canceled, the athletic department is still tasked with creating content and engaging fans.
We want to bring some of those games back to life.
UCF Multimedia Manager Sami Kincaid has been crucial in telling the stories of UCF student-athletes, alumni, and the coaching staff. One of those series that has taken off is, “Strolling with Sami,” in which Kincaid she walks and talks with athletes and coaches.
“We’ve had to switch it up, obviously, but she’s done a great job with getting them on virtual calls and being able to take strolls in their respective areas to learn more about how they’ve been managing during the pandemic and how their families have been,” DeSalvo explained.
Leading up to the football season, the content strategy is to continue to tap into the nostalgia, the monument games, and major moments in school history.
“We’re thankful that we’ve had so much success,” he said. “Over the last three years, UCF is one of the five winningest programs out there. We want to bring some of those games back to life.”
Fans are loving those moments. The UCF vs. Cincinnati game from 2018 garnered over one million impressions on social media. Another hit came from the school’s lone appearance on ESPN’s College Gameday
“Obviously, our fans’ camera rolls are chock-full of content from that day in November of 2018, so we tapped into that and they responded in a big way,” DeSalvo said. “We plan on continuing to reach out to them, create polls for them, brackets to engage with, feedback questions that are open-ended… We are thankful to have an extremely engaging fan base.”
The average UCF alumni is just 38 years old. The fanbase’s age and corresponding connection to social media has been a massive benefit for the athletic department’s engagement.
“We want to bring people into the lives of our athletes and coaches, and bring them closer to the program despite not being on the field,” DeSalvo said.