Butler Blue II became a media sensation at last year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Final Four, and this year, his stardom rose to a whole new level.
“It’s come on a lot sooner this year and the level of intensity and interest has risen,” Michael Kaltenmark, Blue’s handler, said. “Last year, there wasn’t much attention until the Final Four.
“This year, it started right away, even before the opening round.”
During the 2010 tournament, Blue enjoyed the spotlight with pictures on ESPN.com and an appearance on the CBS Sports Pregame show.
This year, Blue’s photos showed up everywhere, from the Washington Post to TMZ.
During last year’s tournament, Blue enjoyed the spa treatment at his local Indy hangouts like Good Dog Hotel and Spa in Broad Ripple.
This year, he enjoyed spa treatment at the InterContinental Houston Near the Galleria where he was pampered with a massage, alongside a model for College X on Fox Sports. He even had a martini named after him.
Yes, if Blue was living the good life last year, this year, it got even better.
It all seemed to start with the #freebutlerblue2 hashtag on Twitter, started by @ButlerVictory, Kaltenmark said.
The hashtag was meant to “free” Blue from NCAA rules that prohibited him from appearing at any of Butler’s tournament games prior to the Final Four.
“We knew we probably wouldn’t be able to attend, but we decided to try, and when the media and fans found out, they weren’t happy,” Kaltenmark said. “I talked to the NCAA to make sure they knew it was all in good spirit, and we decided to have a little fun with it.”
ESPN’s Kenny Mayne filmed “Butler’s Reign of Terror” at Hinkle Fieldhouse, a satirical piece on Blue and his NCAA tournament appearances.
“Last year it was one week of madness,” Kaltenmark said. “This year, it has been more than three weeks of madness.”
There were columns in major national newspapers. There was an appearance by Kaltenmark and Blue on ESPN’s “First Take” during the opening rounds. There were multiple local TV appearances and a second straight appearance on the CBS Sports Pregame show.
“We weren’t doing shows and appearances like that last year,” Kaltenmark said. “This year we’re on national news the first week.”
Beyond the mainstream media, Blue’s Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube sites, all run by Kaltenmark, exploded with visitors.
On April 3, Blue’s Flickr account hit an all-time high with 82,655 views of his photos from Houston.
Previously never eclipsing the 1,000- to 2,000-view mark, Blue’s Flickr page averaged no less than 12,000 views a day since last week. A photo of Blue “lifting his leg” on a blow-up Wisconsin Badger received more than 20,000 hits alone.
Printable masks of Blue have all exceeded 10,000 hits a piece.
“It’s crazy,” Kaltenmark said. “It’s absolutely unbelievable.
“I think it shows that of all the schools, Butler has really utilized its live mascot and the use of social media to promote the university.”
After last year’s Final Four, the number of Blue’s Twitter followers had just exceeded 1,000. He’s added five times as many new followers since the 2011 tournament began. Between March 28 and April 5, Blue went from about 4,000 followers to 6,082.
“Blue’s really dynamic and engaging on Twitter, so people tend to interact with him more,” Kaltenmark said. “If I don’t check his mentions for an hour, I’ll come back to 30 to 50 mentions.”
A Youtube video featuring Blue, costumed mascot Hink and unofficial Butler basketball mascot Ron5 Robot, has earned more than 15,000 views since posted three weeks ago.
Each video posted of Blue devouring opponent-shaped doggy cookies has earned more than 1,000 views since they were posted.
“I just think that this is our time and we have to take advantage of it,” Kaltenmark said. “I think we’re kicking [the other Final Four schools’] butt on social media.
“It also worked to draw attention away from Brad [Stevens] and the team, which I think they appreciate.
“It’s a beautiful thing.”
And while TMZ may have been the craziest request Kaltenmark has had for Blue, he’s happy he has received all the attention.
“TMZ was crazy,” he said. “I never in my life thought TMZ would contact me about Blue.
“We’ve just had so much fun with it all. This is what Blue was born to do, and we’ve enjoyed the ride.”