by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
In college football circles, the Capital One Bowl is known as one of the top non-BCS bowl games in country, matching up the No. 2 teams in the Big Ten and the SEC. In the Twitter circles, however, it’s known for having one of the funniest accounts on the platform, frequently interacting with fans using witty humor. The account is managed by Matt Repchak, who graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in 2005, and is currently the Director of Digital Media for Florida Citrus Sports. We caught up with Matt to talk about the Twitter account, Northwestern and the Capital One Bowl’s selection process. You can follow him on Twitter at @CapitalOneBowl.
What’s your background at Northwestern and Florida Citrus Sports?
I started as an assistant down here in the fall of 2005. I was a walk-on for the wrestling team for most of my time (at Northwestern). I was medically disqualified because I had been beaten up at practice every day for three years and my body gave out on me. And then I was working for the team and ended up on whatever athletic department listserv and they had an internship that the Big Ten had through the Capital One Bowl. That's how my information got submitted down here. I started out as an assistant in the communications department and then I kind of gradually worked my way to where I am now.
Are you surprised by how much publicity you've received on the Twitter account?
Yes. We didn't go into it thinking we're going to light the world on fire. (We didn't think) through Twitter we were going to suddenly move the needle for everything just on our social media efforts. But we have tried to stay ahead of the game among our peers, among other bowl organizations, and even kind of locally among similar sports organizations. We've tried to promote a non-profit, which is what Florida Citrus Sports is, and to promote a bowl game, which is a one a year even to the majority of the fans near the stadium, you kind of have to have a lot of finesse and you have to try to stay ahead of new technologies, and just find new and interesting ways to keep people engaged. So I think it's not a surprise to me, but I am really happy that we've been able to kind of engage people and stay relevant and interesting to fans.
Like, how often right now would we be having these conversations about Northwestern in previous years? Being able to have a presence on Twitter has let us engage with fans that, for the most part, wouldn't be talking about it until the day before Selection Sunday, or right after they're already knowing what game they're going to.
We still have three weeks of games — three or four. We still have a little bit of time. Two weeks from now is the weekend that always, always messes up our bowl picture — messes it up in that we thought we had one situation and then everything changes. And a lot of times that ends up being great for us, but we'll go into the 17th, which used to be the last weekend of Big Ten play, thinking, "this is going to be our game," or, "if these teams win, we think that we have these options." And then something will happen that weekend, or just before it, that will make everything different, and we're all of the sudden scrambling. And luckily, we're in a great position with where our conference contracts are that we're going to end up with great teams regardless. But the way the bowl stuff works, everything is up in the air until actually Selection Sunday. So it's nice to have a conversation to gauge interest among fans of all different types throughout football season, especially late into October and November.
Are you basically given free reign to have fun on the account?
Yeah, kind of. If there are some things that are, not controversial, but if there's anything that would potentially raise issues, I will approach Greg Creese (the Director of Communications) or Michael Strickland, who's our marketing director, and sometimes they'll actually have ideas (in terms of) stuff that would make good content. So it's kind of a constant dialogue between us. But, or the most part, day-to-day, like last night I was responding to people at 9:30 or 10 o'clock at night — that's not really something that you go and get an approval processed.
(I deal with) every little operation that I can hopefully answer questions about: how the fan experience is actually going to work, buying tickets and stuff, and also our events and everything. It helps to have everybody on board and as the person who's in charge of it, know that I can go to anyone else in our company and get an answer pretty quick if we need it. Luckily Michael Strickland and Steve Hogan, our CEO, have both been pretty comfortable with letting me go ahead and post whatever I (want), knowing that I'm on the hook for anything that I post, as well.
What fan base do you enjoy working with the most?
It's hard to put everybody into a rank order because there's a lot of people that aren't even aware — like, we haven't even had a serious conversation with Ohio State before because we had a gradual presence onto Twitter. We were active through Florida Citrus Sports since I think about 2009, but we didn't control the Capital One account — our title sponsor did — until last year. So, all the way up until we took control of that account, Ohio State was a BCS school, and then last year things fell off, they went to 6-6 and they were never really in our picture, and now, this year, they're not eligible. So we've never really been in the conversation for a team like that and we happen to only get a small sample set. I mean, we had a great experience with Nebraska last year. It was a lot of fun kind of picking out the people that are most active on Twitter. We had a lot of conversations with @FauxPelini, the Bo Pelini impersonator, so that kind of stuff is fun. I'm looking forward to finding the gems of whatever selection of fans we end up with this year. It's been all Northwestern for the past few days, so they are very excited. It's noticeable.
As a Northwestern alum, is Northwestern's ability to travel to bowl games an issue in the selection process?
Speaking not as a bowl employee; speaking as a Northwestern alum, I think there's a perception of the perception of Northwestern. Right now, we've had what everybody thinks is the opinion, which is Northwestern doesn't fill their home stadium and they don't travel to games, so they're not an attractive option. That's been the mantra that people have repeated for a long time, despite the performance to the contrary. I mentioned this on Twitter to Teddy Greenstein, every time Northwestern comes up among our selection committee, the first thing that Steve Hogan (the CEO), or the other leaders who have been around for awhile, have said is (Northwestern) did a great job when they came here in 1997. And the previous year, actually — the Rose Bowl year, 1996 — the Citrus Bowl — its was then the Florida Citrus Bowl — was actually kind of hoping to get Northwestern that year, too. Steve told me that they had t-shirts printed up, they were ready to go and then it just so happened that Northwestern won out and ended up higher.
So, there's never been a conversation in the room about Northwestern's performance, travel-wise. And really, that conversation doesn't even start until late in the stage of Selection Sunday. Most of the time, when our selection committee gets together, the first thing that goes up on the board is record and head-to-head wins and past bowl history. The first thing that they're going to look at — the guys that vote — is how did the team perform on the field — who did they beat, who did they lose to, where did they lose, where did win, stuff like that, when was the last time they were in Florida or in Orlando, what other games have they been in recently, things like that, that are pretty much directly related to the team's performance. Now, if it comes down to another circumstance (where) we've got two 9-3 or 8-4 teams and one set of fans is significantly more excited than others, like we can tell, like we've had people calling our offices — (athletic directors) do a lot of campaigning (and) we have a lot of times when, especially last year, we're able to see which fans are excited about coming to Orlando — that may kind of tip a little bit, but that's after we've already considered the on-field resume.
So, there is not — at least among the selection committee in Orlando — there is not a negative perception of Northwestern's travel capabilities, or of fan excitement. I think, if they were available to us, they would be an attractive option. Consider that Northwestern, to be on our board, would have to (have) eight wins, nine wins, 10 wins, that's a strong team for any Big Ten program right now, this year.
Do you push for Northwestern at all? Are you still a Northwestern fan?
Oh, of course. I have the helmet sitting at my desk. When they come up in conversation, I'll joke with some of our scouts or play the fight song on my phone, trying to nudge a couple people. And we do have some other folks in the room who are fond of the Wildcats. I think we have at least two or three alums and a few people who kind of make a regular trip to Chicago to see the team once a year. So they do have some advocates in the room. I have no influence in the ultimate vote, so I just try to kind of needle guys and pump up the Wildcats where I can. But again, there's nothing that I can do that's going to sway a final vote more than what the team did and how excited their administration and their fans are.
Are there any other Twitter accounts besides @FauxPelini that you've had fun interacting with? Are there any conversations with @FauxPelini that were especially fun for you?
I like getting into the back and forth. I think yesterday, part of the of the Northwestern stuff started with a couple of guys who were joking about what their preferred bowl destination was and I had the opportunity to get in there. I think the Outback Bowl and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl were also in on it and we took a couple of playful shots back and forth, which is kind of fun for me. I wish that other organizations had somebody in my position right now — my title here is Director of Digital Media — so there are not a lot of bowls that have those resources, or they have somebody who is (in charge of Twitter), but also in charge of seven other things. I do our website and I do a lot of the media relations support and marketing stuff, as well, but it's nice to have somebody that is actively engaged, so we can kind of have a little bit of a back and forth with people. To get some teasing with our competitive organizations is a little bit more fun to me. There hasn't been anybody that's jumped out to me as much as the @FauxPelini conversations last year, but I know we're going to get them when we come around. Whoever ends up in our bowl, we'll find out; you kind of get a flash introduction to the culture of these fan bases on Twitter and just in the general blogosphere.