Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Social media puts sports fans within fingertips’ reach

Facebook and Twitter updates helped bring in a crowd of supporters for a winter basketball game.

If you Facebook it, they will come.

Wheaton student-athletes, coaches, administrators and alums are seeing this more and more as they continue to raise the virtual profile of college athletics by using social media.

Just one example: Before students departed campus in December for winter break, the women’s basketball team extended an invitation to the entire campus for an important conference game against Babson College.

In addition to using the college’s in-house email system, posters and flyers, the team relied on every member of its squad to advertise the event through their accounts on Facebook, as well as send out tweets via the team’s handle @WheatonBBall to encourage people to come to the game and wear their Wheaton blue. The athletics department also used social media channels to advertise the event for about a month prior.

The efforts worked. The campus community, as well as fans from local towns, flocked to Emerson Gymnasium decked out in blue. The audience was triple the size that the team usually sees at games.

“It was the most people I’ve seen in a long time,” said Gabriella “Gabby” Barbera ’13, a member of the women’s basketball team. (She also blogged about the event.) “We were so appreciative and shocked at just how many fans came out to support us. Social media really had a powerful impact. It truly does help spread the word much more quickly.”

The immediacy of social media instantly puts a large fan base within electronic reach, notes Director of Athletics John Sutyak ’00.

“It allows us to provide constant updates, as quickly as we can type. If I am at a game—it doesn’t matter if it is in Norton, Mass., or in Florida—I can give a quick update on my phone, without leaving my seat,” he said. “Our website can also be updated; however, we can’t do it as quickly or as easily on the go. Social media also is an avenue that drives traffic to our website, which allows people the opportunity to get more information.”

So far Wheaton has attracted 1,135 fans to its pages on Facebook and welcomed 651 followers on Twitter.

Steve Angelo, director of intramurals and club sports, says social media has helped enhance his program by getting out information about sign-ups and available sporting opportunities. Also, he notes, “intramural participants can see action shots of themselves, and some of them use these pictures as their profile photos on their personal Facebook pages, so word spreads even more.”

Caitlin Hampton ’13, who is the men’s basketball team’s manager, creates “events” through the Men’s Basketball “group” on Facebook. She also uses her personal Facebook page to promote the team’s home games among her many friends, who can also easily share the information with their friends.

Daniel Libon ’09, who was a member of the cross country and track and field teams at Wheaton, now relies on Facebook and Twitter for his updates on wins and losses.

“If not for Wheaton’s efforts to promote athletics through social media,” Libon says, “I wouldn’t know as much as I do about how teams are doing.”

“Social media is great for allowing people who can’t attend games to learn about Wheaton,” adds Dennis Scarpa ’13, a member of the men’s tennis team. “I know that after graduation I will be using social media to stay informed and connected.”

That kind of connection to students and alums is one of the most valuable features that social media provides, says women’s lacrosse coach Emily Kiablick.

“We’re able to get the message out there that our teams are like family. Once you’ve played in this program, you’re always a part of the program.”

—Matt Noonan ’10