Again, maybe I’m biased, but Penn State fans truly amaze me! With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, the sports world has come to a grinding halt. But not for die-hard Penn State fans!
Not long after LSU was crowned national champions on January 13th, a new group of early enrollees stepped on campuses across the country. Coaches hit the reset buttons on their teams, shuffled the deck of players and coaches and started training for the next season in their quest for a title.
Teams are allotted a specific number of hours of practice and organized team events throughout the spring semester. They use this time to evaluate new talent, build relationships across the team and modify playbooks to suit the new coaches and players. It all comes to an end in April when schools host their annual Spring game, where they unveil their new players and coaches to the fans.
Some schools do more than others, but it’s usually a small group of teams that go all out for this annual tradition. Penn State sits near the top of that list – and has for years. For example, last year Nebraska topped the list in attendance with almost 86,000 fans. Then came Alabama with 62,000 followed closely by Penn State and Ohio State with 61,000 each.
I remember attending the annual Blue-White game back in the 80s with thousands of other fans. But this tradition at Penn State started long before that. Back in 1951, Rip Engle started the intrasquad scrimmage and used it as a way to boost revenue for their scholarship fund. Since then, the tradition has turned into quite an affair with fans, pent up in their homes all winter, waiting for a return trip to Happy Valley to meet up with their football families for a day of tailgating and football.
The team also takes advantage of the moment and does some pretty unique things. Last year, walk-on wideout Dan Chisena caught a 40-yard touchdown pass, and Coach Franklin grabbed the stadium mic to announce to all that Chisena was just awarded a scholarship!
Unfortunately, this year was going to be different.
Penn State knows how much the annual tradition means to so many. Instead of simply letting the day pass, they needed to find a way to help fans celebrate. But how?
With a fan base so proud and skilled at tailgating, Penn State capitalized by creating the concept of Virtual Tailgating! A responsible way to celebrate while maintaining Social Distancing!
They encouraged you to create a Zoom meeting with your football family and share the details with the team. While you virtually hung out with your friends and family, some of the players and/or coaches might pop by your “tailgate”.
We took the concept to a slightly higher level. Even though we’re 2,100 miles and three times zones away from Beaver Stadium, we decided to set up our physical tailgate in our backyard and invite others to join us via zoom!
Tailgating at 8:00am is always a challenge with the menu and drink choices. Our theme of Blue-White included Blue Mimosas, made with champagne and Blue Curacao; and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, a white drink with Horchata and everyone’s tailgate staple, Fireball.
Of course, any breakfast tailgate needs to include Ye Olde College Diner’s famous grilled Stickies!
Our Zoom attendance fluctuated, but we ended up with six others joining us throughout the morning.
In addition to the virtual meetings, they created content to help you celebrate the day. Everything from a recipe book release, trivia contest and replays of the team’s bus arrival and Blue Band performance helped to create the friendly and festive atmosphere of the April tradition.
Another annual tradition that many fans look forward to each year is the schedule poster release. Normally, the team hits the town and passes out posters for the upcoming season that include the schedule. Last year’s poster set a new standard with a poster that actually transformed into a helmet!
This year’s poster still looks great, but we’ll have to settle for the digital version for now.
After our tailgate ended, we were invited to join another with friends that host an awesome tailgate at nearly every game. They had nearly 30 people show up to “enjoy a shot with Deb”.
In the end, Penn Staters had #BWVirtualTailgate trending on Twitter in Pennsylvania. People from all over the country (and perhaps the world) were posting screenshots of their “tailgates” with images of players and coaches who popped in to say hello. A welcome respite from the usual noise on the platform.
Overall, while the game was canceled, Penn State Football did a great job in salvaging what would have otherwise been a depressing weekend for many. They acknowledged over 700+ tailgates with over 8,000 participants. My guess is that it was substantially higher than this, but even so, the vast majority of schools don’t get 8,000 people for an actual spring game!
They made an impact across multiple social media platforms and had quite a nice level of engagement with fans – continuing to build their brand.
After, we found out we received a shoutout from WNEP in Scranton. They grabbed our photo from Twitter and started their segment with us!
So…even while cooped up during these crazy times, Penn State was able to tap into their fan base and add a little sunshine on what would have been a dreary day for Nittany Lion fans everywhere.
Wandering doesn’t mean you have to go far. You can even do it from your own back yard!
Stop wondering. Start wandering!