Matt Storey, former offensive lineman for Butler University’s football team, has a favorite joke from the American version of The Office: that time Jim Halpert dressed up as Dwight Schrute and imitated him all day. “Really,” he says, “[I] just love all the Dwight and Jim antics.” His teammates were similarly obsessed with the show, banging out seasons at a time on lengthy road trips. “College athletes spend a lot more time resting or staying in when other students would be going out and partying,” he reasons. “This leads to more TV time.” Why The Office? “It’s such an iconic TV show.”
Storey and Butler aren’t the only college athletes who’ve given the NBC sitcom, which ran from 2005 to 2013, something of a social media renaissance. I kept noticing Office GIFs, quotes and memes pop up on Twitter accounts for college sports teams and their players.
Here’s former Marshall quarterback Chase Litton commenting on the cast of The Office having a reunion:
And here’s University of Houston announcing their new head football coach — only to be met with memes from The Office flooding the replies:
Dabo Swinney, coach of the Clemson Tigers — 2018’s college football champs — often draws comparisons to Michael Scott:
So what is it about The Office that resonates so much with college athletes? I asked two students who manage college-sports social media accounts.
Stephen Cohn runs SB Nation’s University of Illinois branch, The Champaign Room. He says that while he’s not really a fan of The Office, the show appeals to a wide audience, and countless scenes have been turned into GIFs that can apply to a wide swath of reactions.
“Running The Champaign Room, I constantly see memes and GIFs from The Office in our Twitter timeline and mentions,” he says. When he tweets out something from the show, “it’ll get a lot of likes… since there seems to be a GIF for every situation, it works well.”
Josh Lange, a recent graduate of Michigan State University, used to run a college-oriented Twitter account with 31,000 followers. He says that on average, memes and GIFs from The Office tended to perform better than other content.
“From what I’ve observed, audiences tend to engage more with content that they can resonate with on a personal level,” he says, “and given the fact that The Office has been watched 74% more than the next highest watched show on Netflix, it’s reasonable to think that there may be something going on here.”
Lange adds that when an audience such as college athletes fill their downtime with a common piece of entertainment — like The Office — “it becomes almost a snowball effect.”
“The show becomes popular, people make memes about the material, people are more likely to re-use the meme format if they are familiar with the show, and the meme format continues to grow.” In other words, just as Storey suggested, the more members of the team who are watching, or have watched The Office to kill time on the bus or plane or in the trainer’s room, the more likely they’ll meme it. The more they meme it, the more others on the team will watch it, and so forth and so on.
Storey concludes with another theory: that a lot of college athletes tend to go into corporate sales jobs “due to the competitive nature of sales positions,” which gives athletes more reason to enjoy the show.
As a former college athlete transitioning into the corporate workforce himself, Storey describes an episode that “hit home” for him: “The one when the sales force got unlimited commissions and all started acting like assholes. Then they plan on sharing their commissions with the staff but get away with just giving them food!”