Marketing agency sponsors student influencers to advertise basketball games

Media Credit: File Photo by Maya Nair | Staff Photographer

Three students who spoke to The Hatchet, each with an online following ranging from 9,000 to nearly 500,000 followers, said the sponsorships aim to elevate ticket sales to nonstudents and amplify school spirit among the student body.

Student and alumni social media influencers said a local consulting firm is paying them up to $800 to promote basketball games in an attempt to bolster attendance at sporting events.

They said MtoM Consulting, a digital marketing agency based in Falls Church, Virginia, contacted students with up to 500,000 followers on TikTok or Instagram to post promotions for the men’s and women’s basketball games and link to the GW Athletics Ticketmaster site on their respective social media profiles during the spring semester. Three students who spoke to The Hatchet, each with an online following ranging from 9,000 to nearly 500,000 followers, said the sponsorships aim to elevate ticket sales to nonstudents and amplify school spirit among the student body. 

The Hatchet has identified at least seven students who have posted paid promotions of GW basketball games on Instagram or TikTok.

Kamau Louis, a former Hatchet opinions writer who graduated at the end of the fall semester, runs a TikTok account with more than 9,000 followers where he has posted promotions for the games, including a satirical announcement that he committed to the men’s basketball team as a “floor sweeper.” He said the consulting agency reached out to him over Instagram in January and offered him an opportunity to produce video promotions for GW Athletics.

“They’re just trying to increase engagement for sporting events and basketball games and overall with the University,” Louis said. “The best way to do that for students is through basketball.”

Louis said he accepted the sponsorship and worked with MtoM Consulting to set his pay rate, $200 per post for a total of $800 across four promotions.

The student sponsorships come as the latest in a series of marketing strategies the athletics department and administrators have pursued this school year to boost school spirit and encourage turnout at games. George’s Army, GW Athletics’ official student section, unveiled new merchandise and ramped up game-day tailgates and halftime fan contests in an effort to connect student-athletes to the GW community this season.

More than 3,700 people attended men’s basketball’s home game against VCU Saturday – the highest turnout for a Smith Center game since before the pandemic when 4,019 fans turned out at the Feb. 22, 2020 game against La Salle. The second most-attended home game was a Jan. 21 matchup against Dayton, which 2,380 people showed up to watch, according to men’s basketball attendance data.

Louis said officials in the athletics department approve each of his promotions before he posts them to social media, ensuring that the ad doesn’t include copyrighted material or profanities, but the ultimate topic of each post is up to him. He said the firm tracks engagement with students’ posts and the Ticketmaster link.

“They’re looking at views, engagement and also like, ‘How does this correlate between this post and increasing ticket sales of alumni buying tickets or just other people?,’” Louis said.

An athletics department spokesperson said officials have signed off on six student partnerships to promote the basketball games this academic year, amassing more than 300,000 views on sponsored videos across TikTok and Instagram. They said the department’s marketing team reviewed “more than dozens” of potential influencers to find students who would be “a good fit” for the marketing campaign.

“We like influencer marketing because it is genuine advocacy, with each influencer creating their own content based on what they enjoy about attending games,” they said in an email.

MtoM Consulting did not return a request to comment. 

Katelyn Power, a freshman with more than 476,000 followers on her ballet-focused TikTok, said athletics department officials contacted her in the beginning of November to promote the men’s basketball games, saying they needed a “difference maker” to increase ticket sales and student involvement. She said she was required to attend at least one basketball game to create two sponsorship videos.

Power’s basketball promotions included a vlog of her day on campus attending a tailgate and a men’s basketball game and a video teaching the George Washington mascot how to do ballet at the pregame tailgate.

Power declined to comment on the payment she received for the videos.

“I think that the initial reason to ask content creators like me to promote the games is because social media is a powerful advertising tool that is often underlooked and underestimated,” Power said. “As much as GW is paying to make flyers and create social media posts on their own accounts, they also want to spread their reach to as many other types of people as possible.”

Abigail Francis, a junior with nearly 297,000 followers on TikTok, said MtoM Consulting messaged her over Instagram in November offering her a contract to post two promotional videos for the Jan. 21 men’s basketball game against Dayton on TikTok and Instagram.

Francis said she accepted the contract in December, setting a rate of $200 per post. She said she signed a second contract last month with the same rate of pay to promote men’s basketball with posts for the Feb. 15 game against George Mason, their Feb. 25 game against La Salle and the women’s basketball game against Davidson Feb. 22.

“It was fun,” Francis said. “I mean, I got to go to GW basketball games and call it work.”

Francis said the marketing agency sent her a list of “do’s and don’ts” before she started producing content for the athletics department, which encouraged her to wear GW merchandise, post with GW-related phrases like “Raise High” and motivate other students and alumni through the videos to attend the games. She said the list prohibited consuming alcohol before games, using profanities in posts or talking “poorly” about GW basketball players or the University. 

She said she released four total videos for the four games, taking part in TikTok trends that highlighted the fan experience at basketball games, like a video about “things at GW that just make sense,” which showcased free pizza, performances from the GW Cheer Team and First Ladies and GW’s mascot.

“It was very much up to whatever I wanted to do,” Francis said. “I’d say just something to catch people’s eye.”

Francis said MtoM Consulting tracked the engagement of her posts through the influencer marketing performance website InfluenceKit, which monitored the shares, views, likes and comments of each promotion. 

“Historically, we do not have a lot of people come to the games, both students and paid ticket customers, and it was specifically aiming to increase paid ticket customers,” Francis said.

The other students who have posted promotional videos of GW basketball games to TikTok marked as paid partnerships throughout this year’s basketball season include senior Kate Carpenter, who has nearly 4,300 followers on TikTok, Danielle Villardi, who has more than 1,100 followers on the app, and Melina Golembiewski, who has more than 6,000 followers. Carpenter, Villardi and Golembiewski have also nearly amassed a combined 12,000 Instagram followers between their respective accounts.

Carpenter, Villardi and Golembiewski each did not return requests to comment.

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