The Ryan Kopacsi Effect: How Social Media Saved the Band Leader
By: Tori Valentine, account manager at Commonwealth PR
It’s evident that the power of social media can start a movement, and even save a band leader. Don’t believe me? Just ask VCU pep band director Ryan Kopacsi.
Kopacsi and the VCU Peppas gained national recognition during VCU’s run to the NCAA Final Four in the spring of 2011. Their “no rules” attitude and a “play what we want” song list helped them stand out amongst the polo shirts and vaudeville sounds filling the rest of the NCAA arena. That year, they went on to win the NCAA Battle of the (Pep) Bands, with a routine that was so energizing that the Butler Bulldog couldn’t help but tap his foot. You can watch the 6-minute performance here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOfqq4_OLMw (I find it important to note that I couldn’t find any videos of the other bands, so that’s telling you something, just saying.)
Then, early in 2013, they did it again. High on top of a custom-wrapped double-decker bus with the phrase, “Havoc Lives Here” and an image of VCU Men’s Basketball Guard Briante Weber’s infamous dunk during the Butler/VCU rematch printed on the sides, Kopacsi and The Peppas rolled into the Rockefeller Plaza in New York blaring “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley and caught the attention of NBC’s the Today Show.
It has been 15 years, three head coaches and almost 1,000 games played with The Peppas as background music at VCU basketball games and with Kopacsi AKA “The Total Package” as their leader. But, in the summer of 2013, all of that seemed like it would end.
On August 12, to more than 1,500 friends, he announced on his Facebook page that he was retiring from his position as Band Leader for the VCU Peppas. In a swift move by members of VCU’s “Ram Nation” the Facebook page “Keep Ryan at VCU” was created, now with more than 2,300 likes and the Twitter hashtag #KeepRyanAtVCU started trending in the Richmond area.
The announcement, followed by the support to keep Kopacsi, was enough to grab local media attention and that attention led VCU’s Athletics Department to issue a media statement on Kopacsi’s announcement that he was retiring:
The VCU Athletics Department learned last night via Facebook that Ryan Kopacsi has decided to retire from serving as director of The Peppas. However, VCU Athletics has not received a formal letter of resignation from Ryan and continues contract discussions with him, working through the University process before a final decision is made.
Then came the national media and a case study in the power of social media.
A few in the national press were fairly certain this was the first time any school had to react to a decision involving their band leader. “It’s not uncommon for schools to release statements about situations related to players, coaches and other team personnel. But this might be the first official statement tied to a band leader,” said ESPN’s Myron Medcalf.
Then NBC sports weighed in:
“VCU had to release a statement on the contract status of their band leader. How often does that happen? I’d put down a car payment on this being the first time,” said NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster.
Similar to when the Rams go on a three-point run, local and national media stories began rolling out via Facebook and Twitter, further bringing attention to the situation and calling for answers to be given.
When it comes down to it, one Facebook post by Kopacsi generated an uprising that resulted in a renewed contract, a higher salary, money to support the band’s volunteers, and a fundraising program. These results are precisely why it this is a case study worth mentioning.
Once again, Ryan Kopacsi and The Peppas gained national attention. Not for their music, but because, through the power of social media, VCU fans proved that they believed in Kopacsi and the Peppas and would not stand to see “The Total Package” and unofficial “sixth man on the VCU team” quit.