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Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

@UNIAthletics by the numbers

An inside look at representation on UNI Athletics social media accounts
The above graph presents data collected by the Northern Iowan from the official UNI Athletics X account. Every tweet from 2023 was counted and categorized based on which sport it was. Original tweets as well as retweeted content was counted. Note that the men’s and women’s golf teams do not have individual team accounts on X.

Whether looking for score updates, exciting highlights or the latest sports news, Panther fans know one place they can always check: the official UNI Athletics social media accounts.

Social media is a vital tool for collegiate athletic departments around the world looking to capitalize on fan engagement and sports marketing. UNI Athletics is no exception, utilizing X, Instagram and Facebook to connect with over 54,000 different accounts across all three platforms.

Assistant Athletic Director for Communication Joel Wauters oversees the communications team for UNI Athletics. His duties include overseeing press releases, game recaps, the website and social media.

“I’d say our overall goal is to in general inform, educate and to engage with our fans,” Wauters said. “You know, people come to our games all the time, but some people aren’t able to see it. …A lot of times our social media feeds provide that information and those updates that they like.”

While the UNI Athletics accounts promote content for all 15 sports listed on their website, six men’s and nine women’s sports, some teams inevitably get more attention than others.

X and Instagram

In February 2023, ESPN analyzed the tweets of the then-65 Power 5 schools’ athletic departments on X. They revealed their findings in an article titled “Behind the Power 5 gender bias problem on Twitter.” The overwhelming majority tweeted about men’s sports more, raising questions about Title IX and equity in athletics.

The Northern Iowan set out to complete similar tests to the ESPN analysis using UNI Athletics accounts. They went through every tweet and retweet from the UNI Athletics account of 2023, tracking the number of tweets per sport. The findings were as follows:

54% of the UNI Athletics tweets pertained to women’s sports, the other 46% featuring men’s sports.

The sport most tweeted about was men’s golf, with 66 tweets in 2023. The women’s golf team wasn’t far behind with 60 tweets. However, according to Wauters, these two teams do not have their own individual team accounts, meaning that the official UNI Athletics account is the only official university account consistently providing golf content. Wauters said he’d like to see an X account in the future specifically dedicated to the golf teams.

“Having their own platform would be great,” he said. “We just have to build a following, which we’ll use the other platforms to help promote it.”

In terms of equally representing men’s and women’s sports, Wauters said the UNI Athletics works to balance content between the two.

“It feels a little imbalanced because we do have more women’s sports and we do men’s, but oftentimes when it’s a sport where we have both men’s and women’s team like basketball, we consider, is what we’re doing for the men’s team also fair for the women’s team… just so both teams feel like they’re well represented.” he said. “Having the different number of teams on each side of the gender spectrum is a little different, but we try to make it as balanced as we can based on the following and the interest.”

As part of the investigation, the Northern Iowan also looked at posts on the UNI Athletics Instagram from 2023. 57% of posts featuring athletes featured women’s sports, with 43% featuring men’s sports.

Individual Team Accounts

The majority of teams at UNI have their own X and Instagram accounts to post content for just their sport. While UNI Athletics still has some control over these accounts, Wauters said that a lot of the content comes from the teams themselves.

“It’s not quite in our budget to be able to travel to every single sporting event, as much as we would like to, so it gives people an idea of what our teams are doing when they’re away from home, and what’s going on in the tunnels and in the locker room,” he said.

As an example, Wauters named the perhaps unexpected person who has been responsible for a lot of the content on the UNI Men’s Basketball Instagram: the team’s own Bowen Born.

“He approached me, I want to say not last summer, but the summer before that,” Wauters said. “But he’s like, ‘Hey, so I kind of have just like a hobby of graphic design.’ And he threw out some template ideas for me and said, ‘Would you have any interest in using these?’ And I’m like, ‘Bowen, these are really good. Like, we could use these as our official designs for the season.’”

While individual teams have more control over their own socials, it also means that some discrepancies can be observed between sports. For example, the UNI Men’s Basketball Instagram account posted 130 times between their exhibition game Nov. 1 and their final loss of the season on March 9. Of these posts, 48 were video content on Instagram Reels.

Comparatively, the UNI Women’s Basketball account posted almost half as much with 67 posts over the course of their season, from Oct. 31 to their NIT loss on March 24. 27 of these posts were video content.

Wauters said that UNI Athletics strives to offer equal amounts of content for teams, but it isn’t always possible.

“It’s not so much of a lack of interest in doing it, sometimes it’s resources for us,” he said. “We have a pretty good sized student group of interns, but not everyone’s available to do everything at the drop of a hat like it’s a full time job. We have to pick and choose our projects sometimes, but when we can we try to make it as equitable as we can.”

Social Media Handles

ESPN also examined the number of Power 5 schools that used “Lady” labels or indicated a women’s team with a “w” or similar icon while the men’s team did not have any indication. They found that 19 schools in the Power 5 did not designate a gender for their men’s basketball team in their X handles, but did designate the women’s team.

UNI’s basketball teams’ X handles are equally designated — @unimbb and @uniwbb respectively. However, the X names are a different story.

The @unimbb account holds the name “UNI Basketball,” while the @uniwbb account is labeled “UNI Women’s Hoops.”

“To be honest. I think that’s a good thing,” Wauters said, referring to more and more schools using the “men’s” label for sports content. He said that UNI Athletics may consider changing the X name in the future, but it is uncertain.

“There’s also the brand awareness that we keep in mind,” he said. “I hope if we do it, it’s not a struggle and a change for people to get used to, but we’ll see.”

Instagram was similar, the men’s team using the handle @uni_basketball but the name “UNI Men’s Basketball.” The women’s team account has the handle @uni_wbb and the name “UNI Women’s Basketball”

Looking Forward

Aside from providing educational and informational content, Wauters said that finding a recipe for engagement is key.

“We like to educate but we also like to have fun,” he said. “We’ve seen it with a lot of other accounts from across the country, people getting engaged in some more of the fun, as I like to call it, the meme culture.”

“If there’s a specific audience within our fan group that I think we would like to really get involved, it’s our young fans. We have a tremendous fan base of all ages, but growing the next generation of fans is big, especially because a lot of them grew up as social media developed into what it is today, and it’s going to just continue to explode,” he said.

Amidst all of the moving parts of running a collegiate athletic department’s social media, Wauters said his team keeps the needs of coaches, players and Panther fans at the forefront.

“We always take input ideas from coaches and propose a lot of ideas to them,” he said. “Some get shot down, but we’re open ears, and any way we can improve and get more people involved in following the Panthers, we’ll take it into consideration.”

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