The NCAA is often questioned about the rules it makes and they, like any other established (some would say entrenched) institution, are feeling the tension between preserving what they’ve always known and growing with the times. This week they made a decision in favor of preservation without realizing they’re only hurting themselves.
This week’s news that the NCAA has outlawed the use of hashtags on football fields comes as a result of what several universities did last season: got smart about hashtags. The NCAA is afraid that hashtags are going to be a back door into on-field commercial advertising for universities, something they’re against. While that is a legitimate concern they didn’t have to extend the ban on hashtags as far as they did.
Thus far the schools that have used hashtags have been entirely school spirit oriented. Mississippi State, for instance, turned their end zones into hashtags last season with #HailState. Other schools put them elsewhere on the field using hashtags like #GoHogs (University of Arkansas), #GoHeels (University of North Carolina) and #GoBlue (University of Michigan).
Hashtags Are Logos
These hashtags are essentially social media logos for the schools. That’s the irony of the NCAA’s ruling because school logos are perfectly legal on the field. They can’t see that the hashtags as they’ve been used thus far are basically searchable, measurable and in some cases, temporary logos for their teams. They’re a dream for marketers and anyone at a university who’s trying to pump up its fan base or increase fan engagement and interest. Now, thanks to the NCAA’s myopic view of logos, universities don’t have this option anymore.
New Game Plan Needed
If the NCAA wants to outlaw commercial hashtags, fine. I can see how they don’t want something like #EnjoyCoke or #DriveFord on the field. They’ve missed it here in ruling out all hashtags though.
In a day and age when it’s easier to stay home and watch a game on your huge HDTV, this is the kind of thing we need more of, not less. While we see the NFL looking for more ways to bring people to the stadiums and engage their fans during the games the NCAA kills off one of the better ways to do this. I don’t get it.
As a college football fan and a marketing consultant I have to throw a flag here. This ruling shouldn’t stand. It’s only going to hurt the very universities they say they’re protecting.