State of College Football Digital

SkullSparks continuously strives to interpret and share the current state of college football digital. We’ve had time to analyze a mountain of FBS college football social media data from the 2020 calendar year (also check FCS college football numbers).

Like the rest of our world , the pandemic impacted college football severely in 2020. The 130 FBS college football teams managed to play just 570 games compared to 888 in 2019. That translated to a loss of more than a third of the season (-35.8%). Four FBS teams — UConn, ODU, UMass and New Mexico State — opted out completely.

Attendance was restricted, TV schedules were disrupted and content opportunities declined. Yet, as we’ll demonstrate, college athletics creatives and external teams continued to deliver football team brands to recruits, fans and donors via digital in the face of unprecedented challenges in 2020.

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ACCOUNTS / AUDIENCE
All 130 FBS college football teams maintain official Instagram and Twitter accounts. All but 13 (90%) maintain an official presence on Facebook. From Jan 1, 2020, to Jan 1, 2021, teams overall added 2.9 million followers on 377 official accounts — an increase of 6%.

The average FBS college football team counts 395k followers across its Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts. Alabama leads all FBS teams with 3.3 million cumulative followers. Traditional college football powers make up the rest of the top 12. You can view all 130 FBS college football teams ranked by total social media following as of January 1, 2021:

Twitter supplies more followers for college football teams than any other platform, nearly 20 million total (19,437,068). The average FBS team has 150k followers. Alabama football has the largest Twitter following with 994k. Overall, FBS teams added 1,052,482 followers on Twitter in 2020.

A solid 98% of team accounts are verified (127 of 130) with the coveted blue check. Twitter, we encourage you to verify our friends at @UTEPfb, @AppState_FB and @WeAreSouth_FB.

Surprisingly, Facebook provides the next largest audience, 18,283,877 total followers across the 117 teams which maintain official accounts. The average team has 141k followers. Michigan football has the largest Facebook audience with 1.58 million. Teams added 48,164 followers in 2020. Ninety-five of the 117 team pages are verified (81%).

Finally, Instagram is the source for another 13,540,277 followers across all 130 FBS team accounts with the average team counting 104k followers. Again, Bama football has the largest IG account with 1 million followers. Instagram grew the most in 2020 with FBS teams adding a total of 1,798,645 followers.

Instagram has some work to do verifying accounts: 42 teams don’t have the blue check, just 88 of 130 are verified — 67%.

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POSTING / STRATEGY
We amassed statistics for every tweet, Instagram and Facebook post for all 130 FBS college football teams in calendar year 2020.

The average team tweeted 3.1 times per day with Kentucky football tweeting the most with 10.5 per day (NIU had the fewest with one tweet per day). Teams averaged 1,104 tweets for the year with UK on the high end tweeting a total of 3,844 times and NIU just 355 times.

Teams averaged 411k interactions from their Twitter efforts with LSU leading college football with 5.1 million interactions (likes and re-tweets). LSU generated 4.4 million likes and 700k RTs — both FBS highs. USC had the highest engagement rate of all teams on Twitter at 1.4%.

On Instagram, teams averaged 1.07 posts per day in 2020. Texas football posted the most, averaging 3.56 per day with Akron averaging the fewest at 0.15. Teams generated an average of 1.6 million interactions from those posts with Ohio State amassing an FBS-high of 19.4 million total likes and comments.

The average interaction rate for college football on Instagram was 4.4% with Buffalo at the high end at 12.6% and Stanford the low at 1.6%. Teams averaged 2.2 million views on original video posts with Clemson generating a high of 25 million views.

Finally, on Facebook, teams averaged 1.21 posts per day in 2020 with a high of 3.66 posts per day from Kentucky. Teams averaged 339k interactions (reactions, comments and shares) for the year on Facebook posts with LSU leading at 3.9 million interactions.

The average interaction rate for the FBS was 0.92% with New Mexico football generating a high of 4.7%. Teams averaged 2.3 million views on video content with LSU amassing 34.6 million views to lead college football.

In addition to the traditional “Big 3” social media platforms, we surveyed college football on emerging platforms. Fifty-two of 130 FBS college football teams (40%) maintain official TikTok accounts (we removed Michigan after learning it was an unofficial account included in the tweet below):

Clemson football leads college football with 532k followers and 7.3 millions likes on its TikTok account. Three other teams had more than 100k followers including Georgia (159k), Ohio State (118k) and Tennessee (110k).

Georgia (2 million) and Cincinnati (1.4) join Clemson generating more than a million likes. College football on TikTok:

As for Instagram’s answer to TikTok, IG Reels, we found 71 of 130 FBS college football teams (55%) utilizing the video feature:

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INTERACTIONS GENERATED
We believe college athletics digital and design should inspire stakeholders including recruits, fans, donors to action. If someone interacts with content by liking, commenting or sharing, we believe this demonstrates a higher degree of effectiveness for the content. We recognize that many variables impact interaction but this is the best indication we can generate from analytics. | Analytics FAQ

Again, despite a loss of more than a third of game inventory in 2020 compared to 2019, college football creatives and external teams actually maintained overall interactions with recruits, fans and donors. The 130 FBS college football teams generated a total of 302,564,625 interactions across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook in 2020.

Remember, these are numbers for the 2020 calendar year, so LSU’s national championship win on January 13, 2020, is included. The Tigers led all teams in 2020 with 24.9 million total interactions generated on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook:

Sixty-four of 130 FBS college football teams (49%) actually increased interactions from 2019. Ohio State led the nation with an increase of 5.8 million. BYU (2.4 million), Auburn (2.4 million), Clemson (2 million) and Arkansas (1.9 million) rounded out the top five teams increasing interactions from 2019:

Instagram supplied the most interactions for 119 of the 130 FBS college football teams (92%). Twitter supplied the most interactions for the remaining 11 teams: Cincinnati, Georgia Southern, UTSA, Buffalo, Ball State, Toledo, Arkansas State, Bowling Green, Ohio, Akron and Memphis.

Finally, we tracked college football head coaches and their personal Twitter accounts in 2020. Mississippi State’s Mike Leach, Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin and Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley were the top three in generating Twitter interactions for the year:

That’s a ton of data but one thing is clear. Despite severe challenges in 2020, college athletics creatives and external teams succeeded in delivering football team brands to recruits, fans and donors. It was an outstanding job across college football.

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Thanks to the athletics staff working hard behind the scenes to connect fans with the teams they love.

Jason R. Matheson