Football: FAU underwent a university-wide revitalization in Lane Kiffin’s first season

The team’s 2017 season of success boosted everything from school applications to game attendance


The Owls celebrate Dec. 2, 2017 after defeating North Texas 41-17 for the C-USA Championship. Alexander Rodriguez | News Editor

Wajih AlBaroudi, Contributing Writer

In a season where FAU head football coach Lane Kiffin led the Owls to a program record 11 wins and a 2017 Conference USA championship, the biggest victory may have came off the field.


Throughout Kiffin’s rollercoaster coaching career, he has always been a headline grabber. After a record-breaking first year at FAU, it’s safe to say the media attention followed him down I-95 to Boca Raton.


Since Kiffin’s arrival in December 2016, attendance, merchandise sales, out-of-state applications, publicity value, and most importantly, wins, have all skyrocketed.


“You need to enjoy it. This is not a normal story,” Kiffin said in November. “You don’t go from three three-win seasons and the media, no one picked us to win the conference let alone even the division. We’re in the middle of a really unique story and we need to keep it going.”


Kiffin brought legitimate star power to what was once a seldom known commuter school; drawing celebrities such as former MLB manager Joe Girardi, rapper Snoop Dogg, former Detroit Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson, and Miami hip-hop legend Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell to the Boca Raton campus last season.


Campbell — a former Miami Hurricanes superfan — was enamored with Kiffin upon meeting him. He described Kiffin as arock star.”


However, it wasn’t just celebrities flocking to FAU Stadium to watch the Owls play. Students, fans, and alumni packed the stands, nearly doubling the attendance for the 2016-17 season (18,948) compared to the previous year (10,073). FAU had the third-highest average attendance increase among FBS schools last season, according to the NCAA.


Kiffin’s Twitter account is, to put it lightly, outside the norm of ordinary, cliche-ridden accounts of most college football coaches. From joking about covering a point spread in a win against Marshall to trolling Tennessee’s scrutinized coaching search by posting a meme of Kim Jong-un donning the Volunteer Orange, his account is one of the most colorful in the sport.


His tweets were met with polarizing reactions, and as a result, followers — lots of them.


The attention Kiffin garnered last season made his profile the third most followed Twitter account (411,455) among Division I head football coaches, ranking behind only Jim Harbaugh of the University of Michigan and Urban Meyer of Ohio State University.


Kiffin’s individual social media success bled over to the university’s online presence as well.


Assistant athletic director Katrina McCormack said FAU football and FAU athletics’ social media accounts increased its followers 55 percent and 30 percent respectively.


“Viewership and mentions were at all-time highs in the history of our social media,” McCormack said via email. “Four of the Top 10 most viewed pieces of content of all-time came from this past season.”


And the university soared in publicity value in the 2017 fall semester, according to Joshua Glanzer, FAU Media Relations assistant vice president. Through FAU’s monitoring software Cision, Glanzer found that athletics’ publicity value shot up 701 percent to $75,790,000 million and that the school in total rose 159 percent to $96,950,000 million.


“Cision’s publicity value calculations are based on length of the story, the type of media in which it appeared, and the number of impressions for the individual article (not the site as a whole, since that can be misleading),” Cision said on its website. “This assigns a dollar value to publicity so it ties to business outcomes very closely.”


The massive increase in publicity value shows that with each of his signature “rat poison” or “Come to the #faU” tweets, dollars don’t fall too far behind.


FAU President John Kelly attributed a 35 percent hike in out-of-state applications for the 2018 fall semester to Kiffin’s social media presence in an interview with ESPN.


“And we haven’t done anything else differently, so it has to be Lane,” Kelly said to ESPN in December 2017. “He just gets it, both as a football coach and being able to attract attention to our university. I laugh just about every day at something he puts on Twitter and understand that he’s about the good of the institution and is thinking about what appeals to a 17-year-old kid and not a 60-year-old guy.”


Kiffin and the FAU football team’s success made Owls gear a hot commodity. McCormack said merchandise sales from licensed vendors have increased 22 percent following the 2017 season.


And the head coach was rewarded with a 10-year contract extension in December 2017, keeping the 42-year-old coach signed until 2027, according to an ESPN report. With a historic first year in the books, Kiffin and his return this spring could potentially propel FAU’s ascension into the national spotlight even further.


After a blowout 50-3 victory over the Akron Zips in the 2017 Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl, Kiffin shared his outlook for the program: “We expect to play this way, and we’re just getting started.”

Wajih AlBaroudi is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet @WajihAlBaroudi.