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Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 4/17/2011

Middle man makes friends with Facebook

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Let’s be clear about one thing from the start. I am a dinosaur in a hare-paced business. Heck, I miss typewriters and carbon paper.

I don’t have a Facebook page and wouldn’t know what to do with it if I had one. I may be the last journalist standing, or sitting, that hasn’t Twitter’d or tweeted or whatever it’s called. Never sent one; never read one.

Admittedly, one reason I have paid scant attention to so-called social media is bitterness over the effect it has had on our industry. Newspapers used to be the middle men between athletes/celebrities and fans. Social media, especially among younger, tech-savvy types, has to some degree eliminated the middle man.

So, given the choice between embracing it and ignoring it, I’ve found ignorance to be bliss.

On Friday, though, the University of Toledo’s athletic department staged a social media extravaganza, held in large part to call attention to the merger of two Facebook pages, one created by the athletic marketing department and one by the department’s media relations crew.

The new Facebook page featured video interviews with athletic director Mike O’Brien as well as coaches and athletes from every UT sport. Even I can watch a video. Twitter was involved in some way, although, as I’ve indicated, that’s beyond my capabilities.

My best bet was three rounds of live chats held with football coach Tim Beckman and receiver Eric Page, men’s basketball coach Tod Kowalczyk and forward Matt Smith, and women’s hoops stars Naama Shafir and Melissa Goodall.

Each sport’s segment lasted about 30 minutes. Paul Helgren, UT’s associate athletic director for media relations, said there was no way to count how many people were monitoring the chats, “but we had more questions than we could handle.”

In fact, there were 59 questions asked and answered in 90 minutes of live chats. That’s like a week’s worth of news conferences. And, to be frank, some of the questions were better than you might hear in a news conference.

Beckman was asked if suspensions to five Ohio State starters and its coach had him smelling an upset in Columbus on Sept. 10. His response did not refer by name to his friend and counterpart Jim Tressel, but he said, “We’re excited about playing the Buckeyes in the ’Shoe, regardless of who’s on the field … and it’s a great opportunity for the Rockets.”

He discussed the Bowling Green (he called it TDS, as in the team down south) game being moved to mid-October and he found it interesting that his team would be BG’s Homecoming opponent. “How about that?” Beckman typed. He gave a few eligibility updates, and mentioned there would be 100-plus recruits on campus for that night’s spring game. Page, the 2010 All-American, said UT’s biggest game always would be TDS, but that Northern Illinois and Miami, last year’s MAC title opponents, posed the biggest challenges on the league schedule.

By the time Kowalczyk and Smith came on your friendly neighborhood dinosaur had even figured out how to ask a question. So, coach, after back-to-back, four-win seasons, what’s a realistic expectation for 2011-12?

“Look for the Rockets to be one of the most improved teams in the country,” Kowalczyk said.

I asked Smith about the atmosphere at Savage Arena during the Women’s National Invitation Tournament and he said, “I was blown away with how the community supported the women. I really can’t wait for the community to support us like that, which I know they will.”

The final chat with two players instrumental in UT’s run to the WNIT championship was, of course, a lovefest on both ends of the keyboard. Both Shafir, the tournament MVP, and Goodall said their favorite memory was playing at home before sellout crowds. “It’s something I’ll never forget,” Goodall said. And when asked if she would have preferred to play in the NCAA Tournament, Goodall said, “Even with it being my senior year and [my] last chance to make the NCAA, I still wouldn’t trade the amazing experience and run we had in the WNIT.”

Shafir has another season a UT and I asked how concerned she was when first hearing rumors coach Tricia Cullop was being pursued by another school.

“I had a feeling it wasn’t true, but we all know how important she is to us and to this program and I’m glad she’s staying here,” Shafir said.

We found out Goodall hopes to play professionally in Europe and that the basketball team and the women’s soccer team had been involved in a prank “war” that included water balloons, toilet paper, saran wrap, and various foodstuffs.

So there you have the latest scoops, courtesy of social media.

“It is becoming a large part of the communications landscape,” Helgren said, “so we want our fans to get used to following us on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets. Fans want to feel like they are a part of a team, not just following it.”

Helgren said the athletic department’s Facebook page has 2,300 friends, growing by 500 during the several weeks UT promoted its social media event. His goal is 10,000 by the start of the football season.

That’s a lot of folks. Perhaps it’s time to check into this Facebook thing. Maybe even a dinosaur could find a handful of new friends.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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