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Media Blitz: The Changing Media Culture in College Football

Published on March 4, 2024, 4:34 p.m.
by Meg Fullen.

College football holds a special place in sporting fans’ hearts through the legacy of intensity and competition passed on since 1869. Throughout the last decade, college football fans find themselves saying goodbye to old traditions and transitioning into a new era of the sport. With rules and deals being changed every year, people within the sports industry find themselves at crossroads with the changing landscape of the beloved sport.

Scripting the future
The football game isn’t the only competition going on within college football. Not only are journalists and reporters competing with each other to get the news out first, but they are also contending with fans or connected alumni on social media getting information out before them.

“You have got to be first because regular people will be posting about it,” Edwin Stanton, former sports managing editor at Tuscaloosa News, said. “They are almost like journalists, too.”

Photo via Adobe Stock by razihusin

The utilization of social media in this new era of college football is very important for journalists within the industry. Student-athletes are consistently posting new information on their own accounts, so journalists need to be always plugged in and watching for new updates. Quinn Ewers, University of Texas quarterback, posted on his Instagram account he is coming back for another year after uncertainty of his future. This example illustrates how crucial it is to stay on top of social media and other forms of digital media for news coverage ideas.

“There was a time your options as a journalist were either print, newspaper, magazine, broadcast TV or radio, and that is really about it,” WVUA 23 Sports Director Gary Harris said. “But now through social media and the internet, anybody can start a blog. Anybody can start a podcast.”

Media scores touchdowns
Recruitment has been a significant aspect of college football since its inception, but it has evolved as players can now leverage their social media platforms. As the No. 1 football recruit in the 2024 class, Jeremiah Smith has a whopping 133,000 followers on his Instagram account, and he has not even stepped foot on the collegiate field yet.

Stanton harped on this change by noting, “When I was in college, you didn’t know where a recruit was going until they faxed you the information. Now, it is a big deal, and the idea of recruiting is a business itself.”

Another major aspect in this new unfolding chapter is recruits making a brand or image for themselves through earned media. For example, Ryan Williams, one of The University of Alabama’s recruits, has had the nickname “Hollywood” since his early years playing football. Williams has now used this nickname to leverage his brand through different sports networks like The Athletic who boast of his talents and abilities on the field. By capitalizing on his brand, Williams is increasing his chances to get exceptional NIL deals.

Pamela Chvotkin, remote broadcast coordinator at various broadcast networks including ESPN, FOX, and CBS, as well as a sports publicity and promotion adjunct instructor for UA, explained, “There’s somebody who [companies] know is in the spotlight. They know that they’re successful regardless of how the team is going. As an up-and-coming athlete, they are looking for ways to promote themselves but also get benefits while doing it.”

Game-changing moves
Along with social media changing an aspect of college football, conference realignment and media deals have been regularly discussed subjects. For the upcoming 2024 football season, 14 schools are set to transition into new conferences, with a significant number of them belonging to the Power Five conferences.

Photo via Southeastern Conference

But, why? Each new conference has struck up new network and TV deals with different networks. A few notable changes include the Big Ten with a seven-year, $7 billion deal with FOX, CBS, and NBC, and the Southeastern Conference with its 10-year, $3 billion Disney TV deal to bring the SEC to ESPN and ABC. These media deals have transformed the landscape of college football and how each team competes against each other.

The media deals are fresh on many people’s minds because they don’t know what will happen or where it will go from there. Harris emphasized, “We are headed toward I think at most four megaconferences, or it may be two or three. Then, you will have your other schools that aren’t in megaconferences that are trying to compete at the Division 1 level.”

Conference changes are not new to college football; however, one can infer that, with these major media deals following recent realignments, networks and conferences are out for one thing — money. Chvotkin agreed, saying, “It was always about the money when there were conference realignments with the Big East back in the day. With any of the schools, they want viewership, and with viewership comes more production value.”

The future of college football remains uncertain, so sit back and enjoy the game!

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