UCF Knows Its Audience and Goes All-In to Appeal to Nostalgia

There’s no question nostalgia is in right now. With every team and brand after the so-called Millennial demographic (let’s not get started on that broad characterization), we’re seeing a collection of content that recalls the ’90s, drumming up goosebumps and feelings with fans of which they can’t get enough.

For the University of Central Florida athletics program, jumping into this theme was not only a no-brainer, but particularly suited to their alumni base. Though the school has been around for decades, its coming-of-age, and enormous growth in undergraduate population, began just 20 years ago or so, resulting in an average alumnus age of 36 years old. So a lot of their alumni grew up rocking out to Third Eye Blind between games of Mari Kart and episodes of Saved By The Bell.

It therefore came as no surprise that the 8-bit, Nintendo-themed social media content we’re starting to see elsewhere was a great opportunity for the Knights. And they delivered.

Being first doesn’t matter as much these days. While us that work, or pay close attention to, the social media and sports space, the next manifestation of a Nintendo-ish image or GIF is not entirely new, but for fans all over the country, they have likely not seen much of it, and certainly not seen it with their team and their school.

But UCF took it up another notch, too. Delivering reams of the typical informative content fans need in the theme they bought into for this past weekend’s winnable* game against the Maryland Terrapins (who, they clearly noticed, recalled the turtles Super Mario came across in his travails back in the day). The result? A feeling of novelty and surprise and delight that kept fans anticipating what the next GIF or image would look like.

They clearly came prepared. Because, after the game started, it was just as good, if not better. With a bank of GIFs and Vines that carried the theme throughout with content that was oh-so-fun and oh-so-shareable. With just a dozen Saturdays to really capture the attention of fans, it behooves teams to dedicate resources, time, and content to go all-in each Saturday. To make a plan and execute beyond anyone’s expectation.

And while the bank of 8-bit content kept coming, UCF also continued to deliver other great content, too. With a staff that always seems to small (anyone in social and sports can relate to that), they had people in the right places to go along with additional prepped content that supplemented the nostalgia of Nintendo with the emotion of the game. With a constant stream of content often coming onto fans’ timelines at the same time they’re watching the game themselves in person or on TV. UCF found ways to throw gasoline on the fire of fans watching games — whether it is a quick video bringing them in the pregame huddle or on the field at a crucial time, or a photo perfectly conveying what a player feels and sees, this execution doesn’t happen without planning, empowerment, and strategic vision.

When the UCF-Maryland game ended in a tough, double overtime defeat for the Knights, man were they ready with content that stayed true to the themes, brought the emotion, and was well-aligned with the messaging the program wants to convey. What a perfect way to stick with the Nintendo-ish motif of the day, while reminding fans that the team will not ‘quit’ despite the fact they ended with ‘Game Over’ before beating the final level. The photo of a player in defeat further brought humanity to this emotion.

It is indeed possible to carry the strength of a message with the fun of a novelty theme. And UCF pushed all the right buttons.

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