A friend of mine sent me an article (thanks Zach) on how the NCAA is banning the use of their member schools across the country from using hashtags on their football fields. The national coordinator for college football officials told the USA Today‘s Dan Wolken, “If they have stuff on the sidelines, or on the walls that go around the stadium, it’s OK. The idea is just to preserve the integrity of the field and not open it up to other kinds of advertising.”
Fair enough. I can’t say I disagree with that logic, but here’s why he’s wrong:
1) Hashtags aren’t always advertising: If we began to see #McDonalds or #Applebees then I’d consider that just annoying advertising, but at least going by what we’ve seen so far that doesn’t seem to be the case (see above). Hashtags are mostly used in the twitterverse as a way for people from around the world to join a discussion on a particular topic, so why ban that? A #HailState in the end zone or a #GoBlue at the 25 yard-line is hardly intrusive, and it brings added recognition and communication to and for their fans.
2) Don’t fall behind. Almost every step of the way, the NCAA has been extremely reluctant to embrace the positives of social media with their member schools and athletes over the last few years. They haven’t been too thrilled about their athletes joining up and even media live tweeting their events, but that’s all in the past now as they’ve had no choice but to relax their policies. I’m confident the NCAA will revisit this policy in the not-too-distant future and allow hashtags with conditions. They fell behind before and lost out on missed opportunities, so don’t expect this ban to last very long.
3) Banning is unnecessarily extreme. I feel as long as the hashtag is related to either or both teams, the conference, or a corporate sponsor, they will ease the restrictions and allow them on the field. Are you telling me the NCAA wouldn’t be good with a #CapitalOne (corporate sponsor) on the field for potentially tens of millions to see and bring in additional millions? Large corporations like the NCAA tend to follow the cash wherever they can get it (not saying that’s always a bad thing). We all know sponsors drive corporate behavior and this will be no exception.
4) Everyone’s doing it. OK, so hopefully that logic didn’t work in high school when your friends were passing around a cigarette, but in this case there are 175 million registered Twitter users that are “doing it.” That number is too large and significant to ignore while much of that population tweets about live sporting events. To have a hashtag exposed to thousands, tens of thousands, or millions (depending on the division and program) to see…that’s what we call low-hanging fruit.
5) Change the corporate perception. Like it or not, the NCAA has an image problem. They’re viewed as old corporate fogies who are out of touch with the reality that is big time college athletics and their programs. I’m not saying hashtags on a football field will change that, but it’s a step in the right direction. The general public may view the NCAA’s reception of modern social media technology as their way of connecting to their fans, and we all know as humans we genuinely appreciate corporate America reaching out to Joe six-pack.
Summary: It’s only a matter of time until the NCAA will at the very least relax their restrictions on allowing hashtags on football fields. There are too many opportunities to use them as a way for people to promote a team or event, thus bringing in corporate dollars. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing hashtags on fields as soon as this year’s playoffs.