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From scholarship videos to sideline reactions, Utah football social media strives to bring fans closer to the program

Utah football creative director Maddie Hansen films Utes defensive back Philip Afia (2) as he celebrates the Utes’ 35-27 win over BYU at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — If you’re a Utah football fan, you’ve probably seen the videos.

In one, a pizza delivery from the Pie Pizzeria to the team film room turns into Malik Haynes being awarded a scholarship.

In another, Mason Woodward’s wife disguises herself as an athletic trainer before delivering news that Woodward has been given a full-ride.

In one more, Ali’i Niumatalolo receives a special video message from his father — Ken Niumatalolo, head coach at Navy — telling him he’s on scholarship.

Each video’s idea is different, but they always end the same way — with the team mobbing the player that just was awarded a full scholarship.

The creative ideas are concocted by a team featuring head coach Kyle Whittingham, director of player development Gianna Colosimo and creative director Maddie Hansen.

“Me and our director of player development, Gianna Colosimo, and Coach Whit sit down and come up with the ideas and then my team helps us to produce them. We had the one go viral with the pizza guy, which was so much fun, and then Mason the next day with his wife,” Hansen said.

Those scholarship videos are just some of the behind-the-scenes content that helps fans feel closer and more connected to their favorite team.

“It’s such a fun way to show the family part of Utah football. I like the emotional stuff, I like the things that kind of bring out the side of the game that you love — those heartwarming moments,” Hansen said.

Hansen — the creative director of Utah football — has been on staff since 2014, helping grow the Utah football social media accounts. One of the accounts that has seen the most dramatic growth has been Utah football’s Twitter account, which has grown from 11,000 followers to over 142,000 followers under Hansen’s leadership.

Hansen said she never imagined that social media could be a full-time career, but is excited it turned out that way. The creative team has even been able to add more staff over the years as the program recognizes how influential social media can be for a program.

“We’ve added more staff because I think the coaches recognize that it’s such a big thing — both building your brand nationally and also for recruiting. It’s a really big thing because that’s where these 16- and-17-year-olds live on a daily basis,” Hansen said.

With the added staff comes the ability to produce more content as the demand for more behind-the-scenes content grows. Some of the new things Hansen and her team have produced this season are vlogs chronicling coaches’ work lives, features on what makes players tick, and shots and sounds from the sidelines.

“People really want to see that behind-the-scenes, get to know the coaches outside of who they are on the sideline, and I think the same is true with players,” Hansen said.

Throughout the week, Hansen and her team strive to give fans access to the players and tell their story.

“I’d say one of the biggest ways is Instagram stories and just getting up close and personal during practice, or up close and personal when we’re on the road and trying to show what we’re doing live, in the moment,” Hansen said.

She says the players are easy to work with and recognize that social media can be a valuable tool for them.

“They definitely love to see themselves up there — which is a great tool for them, especially when they want to move on to the (NFL) draft, to be able to publicize them. They’re really fun to work with,” Hansen said.

The players are involved in pretty much every step of the social media process — like having input in what music they want playing in a countdown video featuring them and what highlights of them to use.

A typical game day for Hansen and her staff is stressful — but in a good way.

“Having a set content schedule of what things need to go out, and then obviously, so much of game day is on-the-fly things. Just being on my toes all day. Making sure to be where the team is at team walks or team meals to get what they’re doing, because I think fans really like that aspect of it,” Hansen said.

One of the hallmarks of Hansen’s game-day coverage is reaction shots right after a player makes a big play.

“That’s one of my favorite parts of what I do. I have to give a big shoutout to the coaches when it comes to that stuff, because the coaches let me do my thing. Those reaction videos tend to get people really excited. I feel like that’s something that we do exceptionally well, is those right in the moment, excited, touchdown, interception reactions,” Hansen said.

On game days, Hansen can be found with a portable charger and her iPhone, bringing fans closer to the team.