Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Twitter Takeoff: From 0-60 in one retweet and how it affects the message // Student Attendance issue

I start with the backstory of why I'm blogging, so stick with me....also this blog entry is partly for class credit and it does not have a copy editor.

For Wednesday's Daily Beacon my cohort Troy Provost-Heron (@TPro_UTDB on Twitter) wrote a column centered primarily on the dismal attendance at UT's game against South Alabama on Saturday.

As the sports editor of the Beacon it's my job to - among many other things - read and edit all the sports copy before it prints/goes online and make stories better when I can.

Because I didn't have a story to write for Wednesday's paper, which is pretty rare, I was twiddling my thumbs a bit more than usual and decided to dig around a bit for information on ticket sales that may be relevant to include in Troy's column.

I decided to try and find the student ticket sales numbers for the UGA game. Seeing that we're a student newspaper, it's kind of our domain, and student attendance has been a hot topic with Butch Jones this season. The man is adamant about getting students into the seats at Neyland Stadium.

I received word from UT football SID Jason Yellin this afternoon that about 8,000 of the 12,600-ish student ticks had been sold for Saturday's game.

My first thought was 'hey that isn't too bad considering it's Tuesday.'

During my freshman year - when I was a wee tot with no press pass - I would often wait until Wednesday or Thursday to buy my ticket even though the official request period is much earlier.

Anyway, considering I've been active on Twitter with the student-seating issue and also wrote a story on it, I decided to tweet the figure I had been given. By tweeting it I was not trying to tell my handful of followers what to think.

Rather, it was a somewhat routine piece of information on the progress of an issue that is relevant to the UT student body and UT fans. Here is the tweet

I really only have about 200-250 followers that follow me because of my UT coverage, but because I've formed relationships with some of the full-timers on the UT beat, I'll occasionally get a retweet from one of them if I post something they find interesting.

That's fine with me because it usually results in me picking up a few followers. That may sound silly, but part of journalism today is building your brand and Twitter has a lot to do with that (but that's another blog post).

Anyway, the progression of my tweet went like this:
@DavidWCobb's original tweet ---> @FootballTimeMag retweets it ---> @wesrucker247 retweets it

Wes doesn't follow me, but he follows Football Time and I'm guessing that's how he saw it. So, as many Twitter users do, he added his take on the tweet to the front end and retweeted it as you'll see below:

In a matter of five minutes, my tweet went from being broadcast to my 435 followers (maybe 250 who care) to being broadcast to about 30,000 rabid UT fans, who - because of Rucker's take on the issue - might think I tweeted that to admonish UT's students for not supporting the football team.

By no means am I upset about Wes using the statistic. In fact, I'm flattered that he did because he is a Daily Beacon alum who does a fine job covering the UT beat for GoVols24/7

But because of the #Pathetic mixed with my name and the content of the tweet, it might be interpreted by some that I tweeted with the intention of berating the UT student body. That's the lay of the land with social media.

After Chattanooga Times Free Press UT beat writer Patrick Brown and ESPN national CFB writer (and Beacon alum) Travis Haney also retweeted it with similar prefixes, I think it's safe to say that the tweet reached the feeds of close to 50,000 unique Twitter users. And to most of them, it was conveyed in a negative light because of the precursor to the RT.

Like I said, I'm actually pretty flattered that these guys found me credible enough to retweet on a piece of information that pertains to their livelihood as college football reporters.

They're all three UT alums who blazed the trail I'm currently on.

It is just fascinating to me how a bit of information I obtained to POTENTIALLY add to a column wound up circulating Twitter/the message boards and angering UT fans.

I received 40+ mentions from UT fans in response to the tweet, many of them upset with the UT student body.

So here is my take on the issue: The fact is that those student tickets may be sold by Saturday. Students can purchase tickets even on the day of the game. My roommates are going to the game and they haven't bought their tickets yet.

 I tried to convey that in a couple of later tweets. Those weren't retweeted, though, so they only reached my 435 - now 441 - followers.

Even if the student ticket number stagnates around 9,000 for Saturday's game, it isn't that much worse than last year. Per the research of Evan Woodbery at the Knoxville News Sentinel, UT only sold 9,163 for a night game against No. 1 Alabama last season. Read his June story on the issue here.

According to Woodbery's story, in 2009-12 student attendance only exceeded 10,000 three times. So this is not exactly a new problem. And with 3-4 days till game time, it's probably a little early to crucify the students for not attending a game that hasn't happened yet.

The case can be made that UT students should turn out in droves for every game, especially a game like Georgia, but I think the issue goes deeper.

If/when I ever get the time I would love to go super in-depth and do an enterprise piece on this and examine the student ticket sales at state universities relative to the student population at those universities.

My suspicion is that UT is among the upper echelon - even in recent years - when it comes to percentage of the student body that attends games.

Like I said, it would take time to back up my suspicion with statistics. E-mails, phone calls, online research, interviews with UT people, and time. Unfortunately, time is something I'm a little short on as a full-time student with two part-time jobs.

Luckily, this blog is actually part of a class assignment so I'm being productive by writing it.

In hindsight, I probably should have incorporated "students aren't done buying tickets yet" into the tweet somehow. I assumed that people would realize that. (the request/claim period process thing is too complicated to explain on here, let alone in a tweet.).

Well, that's all I've got for now. Have a great hump day. I'll leave you with a photo I tweeted out last week that Butch Jones favorited on Twitter. It's not from a home game. I believe it's from the 1995 UT-Alabama game, but it's pretty amusing and relevant to the overarching issue of rowdiness at UT games.

David Cobb

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