If you were around Twitter last night, you probably saw that the reaction to BYU's proposed jersey name change was less than great. It can be difficult to really quantify how bad it was, at least when compared to other college football news stories, or how big the story ended up being. Were we maybe blowing things out of proportion? Did the ensuing twitter hysteria really help compel Bronco Mendenhall to change his mind? These are tough questions.
Fortunately, there are experts who deal with exactly this sort of thing. Leading social media analytics firm NUVI, based out of Sandy, Utah, wrote a report detailing exactly how bad the social media response was to the proposed change. I spoke with them to tackle a few of the lingering questions and help make sense of what was one of the more outspoken social media backlashes in recent memory.
NUVI's report focused on social media traffic across Facebook and Twitter during the 24 hour span around the initial jersey announcement. Tracking activity around keywords like "BYU", "jersey", and "BYU Tradition Spirit", NUVI found 1,155 social mentions, reaching a potential audience of 1,437,017 people. Zach Barney, a social media analyst at NUVI, called this "a giant amount of conversation".
BYU PR officials would not be happy to learn that reaction to the proposed changes were overwhelmingly negative, a fact that should surprise exactly nobody. NUVI's report indicated that 564 of the 1,155 mentions were negative, or 49%. Given that another 368 (32%) were neutral, likely just news outlets tweeting the basic facts of the decision, negative reactions outweighed positive ones 49%-19%. That's nearly congressional (dis)approval rating levels.
NUVI also ran analytics for the NFL and NBA Drafts, and struggled to think of events that might have inspired similar levels of antipathy. The closest examples, according to Barney, were the draft choices of New York Jets QB Geno Smith, who was wildly panned as overrated by the Jets fanbase, along with concerns about his maturity, dealings with his agent, etc, and the selection of San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti Te'o, which should also shock exactly nobody. Even the somewhat controversial #1 overall selection of Anthony Bennett by the Cleveland Cavaliers, a move that I personally know was by no means embraced by all the Cavs faithful out there, only picked up a 10% negative reaction, with at least 2% of that attributed to me (mostly kidding). Among recent college football stories, the negative reaction to BYU's jersey move was virtually unparalleled.
Sure, the story was embarrassing, but will it die out? Perhaps a silver lining for BYU administrators is the fact that social media reaction was highly concentrated in Utah, with other states in the surrounding "Book of Mormon Belt" (Arizona, Nevada, California, etc) also showing activity. This might have been a reflection of when the news broke, when many eastern media outlets or bloggers weren't at their desks. The story hasn't been exclusively tied to Utah though, as Barney pointed out that the Dan Patrick Radio Show discussed the name change this morning extensively.
Did Mendenhall stop the bleeding? NUVI notes that negative activity *did* die down a little after Mendenhall announced that the jerseys would only be changed for homecoming, but that reprieve was only temporary. Barney explains that the conversation then shifted from "will BYU reverse this jersey name change?" to "how could BYU have allowed this happen in the first place?".
"I imagine BYU fans will eventually stop talking about this, especially if the team continues to play well. Utah fans, on the other hand, will probably be making fun of this decision for years to come," he added.
Finally, the million dollar question: did Mendenhall agree to make the change after seeing a social media meltdown, or were his players the driving force? "I would hope that BYU considered the reactions, but I really don't know," Barney said. "Mendenhall has a Twitter account, so he should have been aware of the repercussions, but player reactions were probably more important."
It's unfortunate that BYU missed a chance to continue a national conversation about their athletes or their season and instead allowed the discussion to shift to jokes about a uniform change, but strong performance on the field may help undo some of the damage. If anything though, BYU fans better hope they beat Utah this season, or the #cant #beat #Utah #BYUJerseyNames tweets might just be a little too much for any of us to bare.