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How Social Media Saved UNCW Athletics [Case Study]


Diving In

UNCW-Swim-Keep-CalmOn May 15, 2013, the UNCW Intercollegiate Athletic Review Committee (IARC) announced a recommendation which would eliminate 5 athletic teams from the UNCW roster. These proposals came after an assessment of the college's athletic financial deficit which included an 82% decrease in the Departments of Athletics reserve fund since 2009. The recommendation came as a surprise, especially to the men’s swim team who have earned 12 subsequent CAA Championship victories in recent years.

Faced with the elimination of well over 100 athletes, students decided to take things into their own hands via social media. Soon after finding out about the proposed cuts, Sara Smith, a swim team captain and Knight of the Round Table here at Hüify, created an online petition on which recieved over 6,000 signatures within the first 24 hours and has continued to grow to nearly 15,000 signatures! This was joined by the creation of a Facebook group by Matt Byrd, website, and a viral campaign across multiple social platforms.

A Social Media Lifesaver

As the Save the UNCW Swim Team campaign grew, so did the ways in which the message was being delivered. The Facebook group spiked to over 10,000 members within 48 hours of being created and served as a planning ground for events associated with the team. A Twitter profile also was created which quickly gained followers and was crucial in celebrity involvement with the campaign.

By this point, Sara’s petition was nearing the 10,000 signature limit and was still growing exponentially. It was here that Hüify worked with Sara to consult and continue to boost engagement, increase virality, and aid in call-to-action based content. She implemented a new limit on the petition which helped grow the final number to nearly 15,000 online signatures. The team also began to use hashtags such as #Fight4UNCWswimanddive and utilized the publicity surrounding the event to make their way onto local Wilmington TV stations such as WECT and WRAL.

Swimming in Statistics

Underwater UNCW Swimmer

The response from the community and beyond was phenomenal. Though there are too many statistics to mention in one are a few which unveil the true reach of the Save UNCW Swim Team Campaign:

Celebrities Who Retweeted the Campaign:

  • Lance Armstrong- 3,965,181 followers
  • Audrina Patridge- 2,242,106 followers
  • Ryan Lochte- 1,047,344 followers (257 retweets, 135 favorites)
  • Missy Franklin- 371,454 followers
  • Dara Torres- 368,161 followers
  • Amanda Beard- 44,393
  • Brendan Hansen- 38,458

Other Viral Stats:

• 6,000 signatures in under 24 hours
• Online petition grew to over 11,000 signatures in 5 day
• Over 50 major universities from across the country showed support via social media or other online platforms
• Campaign total reach totaled over 8 million people
• The Campaign was featured on two TV stations and three separate radio stations

Back on Board

UNCW Poolside Fisheye

In a room packed with athletes on May 30, 2013, the verdict on the proposal was revealed. UNCW Chancellor Gary Miller announced that no sports teams would be cut from the athletics department. The students rejoiced and their reaction can be found here: Student Reaction Video

In the end, the community engagement and the sheer virality of the campaign proved to the chancellor that the UNCW Swim Team has an unmatched passion and refused to go down without a fight. The following is a quote from the swim team regarding the future of the sport:

“Although we are very excited about our campaign's success, we still need your support. Chancellor Miller has given us a second chance, and now we have the opportunity to lead by example and give teams all over the country the chance to stand up and fight for our sport.”

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