By Patrick Bohn
In today's evolving landscape, coaches can no longer rely solely on traditional media outlets. At Cornell University, Head Wrestling Coach Rob Koll has taken matters into his own hands, using Facebook to generate publicity for his team.
Koll is the consummate salesman, but when it came time to publicize his top-ranked squad's annual community wrestling camp, he found himself struggling. That's why he looked for help.
"There's a marketing professor at Cornell who is a big fan of our program, and every year, her class does a marketing campaign for one event," Koll says. "I asked if she'd help promote our wrestling camp and she agreed. When the class presented their projects, it became clear I had no idea how to reach today's youth."
The presentations had a common thread: Instead of using newspapers, radio, or television, Koll would have to concentrate on emerging social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace. "That was the 'ah-ha' moment when I realized how we were going to bring in a new, younger generation of fans," Koll says.
So the Cornell wrestling program embarked on an ambitious social media campaign. With the help of assistant coaches Jeremy Spates and Matt Acevedo and Cornell junior Lexy Cook, the team launched a Facebook page that not only includes information about upcoming matches, but boasts pictures, contests, and frequent video updates. The page has over 6,000 fans.
Many of the videos feature the team's unofficial mascot, Redman, an unnamed Cornell student clad in a red bodysuit, singlet, and sunglasses. The mascot is often shown doing humorous things, like wrestling against team members or dancing on top of campus buildings.
Koll says Redman's videos are a key part of the marketing campaign. "Humor is universal, so we've tied that into our social media ventures," he says. "We also needed to create a face for our program, and Redman was a way to do that while portraying us in a positive light. This was our attempt to connect with students and project the sense of fun we have at Cornell wrestling."
Of course, it's not just about reaching fans. The campaign has caught the eyes of potential recruits, too. "Every single recruit we spoke to last season knew about Redman," Koll says. "That tells me they're going to our Web site frequently, and what we're doing is resonating with them. When recruits see a Redman video, they instantly connect it with Cornell, which is what we've set out to do."
Koll also sees the social media campaign helping fundraising, which is especially critical for a lower-profile sport like wrestling. "People who feel connected to a program are more likely to be generous toward it, and that's a major positive," he says. "It's about creating ownership in the program. The more that people feel they own part of a program, the more likely they are to give."
Patrick Bohn is an Assistant Editor at Athletic Management.