The University of Central Florida (UCF) Knights football program promoted the social media accounts of their players in a unique way during its 2022 spring game in Orlando. The backs of the UCF football players’ jerseys featured something unique to the world of college sports but ever-present in our technology-driven lives: QR codes.
Spring games have provided novel opportunities for college football programs to expand their social media presence in ways that regular-season fall games cannot. In the past, colleges have placed official school hashtags in the end zone, swapped names for players social media handles on jerseys, and used a variety of other socially driven promotions designed to raise the awareness of their programs and student-athletes.
Last year, during the Knights’ spring football game, the team swapped their players’ last names for their Twitter handles. Head coach Gus Malzahn laughingly stated, “Last year, we put Twitter handles on our jerseys. I was like, ‘What the heck am I doing?’”[iii] Malzahn never thought he’d be embracing such things on jerseys, admitting that “[i]t was a little weird early on. Now it’s not. Now it’s part of the job description.”[iv] This year, the Knights have upped their socially driven promotions to the next level.
At this year’s spring game, the UCF football players donned custom QR codes instead of roster numbers on the back of their jerseys.[v] The QR code-emblazoned jerseys sported giant custom QR codes beneath the players’ last names that can be scanned with the camera on a smartphone.[vi] A scan of each player’s QR code links fans to that player’s specific bio page on the UCF athletics website.[vii] From the players’ biographies, fans can find links to the players’ social media channels, charities, and websites to purchase their own player-branded merchandise, which is now allowed through the NCAA’s embrace of name, image, and likeness (NIL).[viii] UCF also displayed the players’ custom QR codes on its home stadium’s jumbotron during the game.[ix]
While this may seem incredibly odd on the surface, it’s all part of UCF’s attempt to stay progressive in the new world of NIL. In the NIL era, such a promotion is a great way for UCF to maximize potential profits and exposure for its current players and to show high school prospects that UCF is on the cutting edge of NIL and fully embraces players’ ability to maximize their potential on and off the field.[x]
In Orlando, the announcement of the QR code uniforms generated a lot of social media buzz. Social media is a big deal at UCF, as the school has one of the largest student bodies in the country with more than 70,000 students enrolled as of fall 2021 and one of the youngest average ages of alumni with more than 334,000 living alumni with an average age of 34.[xi] Malzahn commented, “We are a school that can fully embrace [social media]—the young school, social media. It fits with us.”[xii]
Last year, in 2021, UCF’s main athletics social media channels generated more than 2 million interactions across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.[xiii] That number of interactions ranked most in the State of Florida and 12th overall nationally.[xiv] The QR code-emblazoned jerseys were certainly a creative way to promote players and attract media attention, and maybe it is enough to get potentially top recruits to move UCF up on their list.
 Image courtesy of UCF Athletics.