Friday, January 4, 2013
As a fan of Indiana University, the very thought of writing this piece made me a little bit nauseous. Not only did it require me to watch the Louisville vs. Kentucky game on December 29 with a keen interest, but it also forced me to ultimately applaud one school. Kentucky basketball is not something that we like to discuss here in Indiana, but the accomplishments of Kentucky head coach John Calipari in all aspects of his job are astounding. On the court, I might never root against someone harder, but off the court I am in complete awe.
When Calipari took over as head coach at the University of Kentucky, aside from hiring one of the biggest philanthropists in college basketball and maybe the greatest recruiter in NCAA history, the Wildcats also acquired one of the sports world’s social media revolutionaries.
In an interview with Andy Katz for ESPN the Magazine, Calipari was asked why he has chosen to maximize the use of Facebook and Twitter.
“It wasn't for recruiting,” Calipari explained to Katz. “It was to connect with fans of our program. I don't believe it's having the effect on recruiting that everybody else thinks it is. But it does connect our fans, and it also connects the haters.”
Already established as one of the most passionate fan bases in the country, Coach Calipari was able to unite Big Blue Nation (#BBN) into one of the strongest voices in the social media world. This weekend during the Louisville-Kentucky game, the Wildcats reigned supreme on Twitter with their BBN hashtag. According to hashtag.org, which estimates tweets per hour based on a one percent sample, the officially promoted #L1C4 of Louisville generated just 11,300 uses, whereas #BBN tallied 23,800 in a three-hour span from 3:00-6:00pm during the game.
Considering the brand recognition of John Calipari, coupled with the overall appeal of the University of Kentucky, this dominance on social media should be of little surprise to anyone. With 373,670 fans on Facebook, over 1.2 million followers on Twitter, and CoachCal.com reaching nearly 5 million page views in the last year, Calipari has become one of the most recognized names in sports. So much so that the University of Kentucky uses his Twitter and Facebook accounts as the official sites of their basketball program.
For Kentucky, the instant boost that a coach of Calipari’s stature brings to the table is hard to ignore. However, should Calipari ever leave the Bluegrass State, millions from #BBN would find themselves following, not their beloved Kentucky basketball, but instead one of the top coaches in their program’s storied history. Yet even considering the risk, the ultimate appeal and benefit that Calipari brings to the program cannot be denied, and provides justification as to why the school is willing to allow one man to represent their basketball program.
Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means suggesting that John Calipari is bigger than Kentucky basketball. The longstanding tradition of the program was established well before Calipari’s arrival, and will remain years after his departure. However, the benefit of having a coach that is so engaged with the fans and community is immeasurable.
Although Calipari has stated that he does not believe his engagement on social media benefits recruiting, I would challenge anyone to find an elite recruit who has not only heard of John Calipari, but that is naïve to his ability to prepare players for the NBA. This success and popularity allows Calipari to bring a level of stardom to Kentucky’s social media outlets that creates excitement for fans looking to engage. Instead of being met with insignificant or boring content, which is the case for countless programs, fans have access to informative content and behind-the-scenes footage that drives traffic and support.
Despite the distaste that I have for the University of Kentucky as an Indiana fan, John Calipari has not only revitalized one of college basketball’s greatest programs, but taken it to heights not seen since the days of Adolph Rupp. He has helped unite #BBN through the program’s achievements on the court, while also turning the school into an NCAA social media leader.
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