UALR hits seventh place in NCAA 6th Fan Contest
Two small schools in Arkansas, with expense budget that are dwarfed by the state’s athletic giant, have surprised many in the NCAA by reaching the top ten in a scholarship contest based on fan support called the NCAA 6th Fan.
The contest started last month, and promises $100,000 in scholarships to the winning college. The colleges face off in a series of rounds similar to March Madness. Fans cast their votes online and via tweets for their school. With each vote colleges rise to the top. The fans have an opportunity to win prizes at each round as well.
Arkansas State (2012 expenses of $15,307,308) and our very own University of Arkansas at Little Rock ($9,356,355) have surpassed the University of Arkansas ($82,470,473) by thirty places. A-State in is first place, while UALR is in eighth place (moved down from seventh last week). Both colleges are expected to continue to the Sweet Sixteen, as the contest calls it. Of course colleges can’t pay their way to the top, but they can certainly give considerable attention to how social media and marketing can contribute to the formula.
Three members of the UALR Athletics Department began pushing the message about the contest in January. Led by Assistant Athletic Director for Communications Patrick Newton, aided by Associate Director Evan Drexler and assistant Cory McCune. The three staff members could not have expected how far to the top they would actually get.
“If you had told me we would have been in the top ten [when we started], I would have been shocked,” Newton said. The Sun Belt Conference certainly had their hand in supporting the contest, which helped the group of sports information managers. “We’re no marketing department. The majority of schools have at least a dedicated department,” he said.
It all began with an email from Gary Johnson. It was a standard email from an NCAA coordinator that was usually inbox fodder for the busy athletics department. The encouragement from long-time Trojan supporter and true 6th fan, Bob Landrum, helped to gather the Trojan community around the cause. “Our first tweet about it went out on January 15th. It really took off from there,” Newton said.
And take off it did – with an average daily percentage increase of 300 percent, the growth was moving UALR into top 100, then 50, then 25. “It’s a lot easier to get excited when something is successful. People were on board and fearless about sharing,” Newton said. Unsure of how fast it would grow, or that it would at all, it wasn’t immediately clear what Newton would do with a newfound community of engaged, excited Trojan fans.
“The big question is what to do after. We had a social media intern this semester, Kara Rainey from the swim team. She and I try to increase engagement, hoping that people share and spread the brand. This contest has helped the most with engaging though. We’ve added about one hundred followers since the middle of January,” Newton said.
Helping the cause is men’s head basketball coach Steve Shields. “The personality of the coaches has helped spread the contest. As individuals they have a lot of power and it increases our reach,” Newton said. “It’s an individual process, and a group of individuals will increase reach.”
The athletics department hopes that this digital rallying will transfer to fans in the stands. “Ultimately, even if people don’t vote, we are getting activity and feedback. It would be great to use this growth in following and engagement and rally the fan base,” Newton said.
Between the NCAA 6th Fan Contest going viral and a more energetic student section than ever before, the UALR Athletics Department is packing department-size punch at a three-man team price.
Students, faculty, staff and fans of the Trojans can vote by tweeting #6thfan and #UALR in the same tweet, or by submitting a vote from 6thfan.ncaa.com. Look for the Trojan logo in 8th place and click “Vote.”