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Friday, April 4, 2014 - 12:01pm

Almost, But Not Quite: How Savannah Lost The "Greatest Southern Town" Bracket

(NOTE: Audio for this story will be available after 6:00 p.m.)

Savannah is not quite the greatest Southern town.

At least according to Garden & Gun Magazine’s "Southern Towns” bracket.

The March-Madness style online contest started off with 32 Southern towns.

This week, Savannah made it into the Final Four, and then the final two as it faced off against Franklin, Tennessee.

Friday, the magazine announced Savannah lost in the championship round to Franklin. Plenty of online voters in Georgia were disappointed (including us here at GPB), but it was all friendly competition in the name of online fun.

Sarah McCammon, GPB’s Savannah Bureau Chief, talked to Kim Alexander, digital media director for Garden & Gun, about the contest, the results, and the #SouthernTowns buzz on social media.

In fact, Garden & Gun Magazine didn’t initially expect Franklin would do so well in the bracket.

“Honestly, Franklin was a sleeper,” Alexander told McCammon. “We never would have picked it to be in the final four initially- at least I wouldn’t have. But I think it was just that steady support that at the end really just went up. Because they ended up winning by 60% of the vote in the final round.”

Nashville's neighboring town got an early start on the online vote, rallying social media support from the first day of the contest.

“I think Franklin won because they have a lot of home team support,” said Alexander. “They really were getting the word out about this bracket and encouraging all of their fans and residents to vote.”

The final round of the contest had over 90,000 votes. The entire bracket, which spanned 2 ½ weeks, pulled in 1.3 million votes.

Garden & Gun does brackets every year, so the popularity wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise, says Alexander, was the huge numbers.

“We’ve done them with Southern foods, with classic Southern food brands. And those were always the top online stories of the year. We knew people would be passionate, we had no idea they would be this passionate.”

Social media users were a particularly passionate bunch. The bracket’s hashtag #SouthernTowns took off on Twitter.

The magazine posted also posted tallies of each level online, where people could watch the votes for the competing towns increase. But for the final championship, Garden & Gun didn’t post a tally online- which may have driven curious voters a little crazy.

“What we wanted to do was really keep the announcement a surprise,” Alexander said. “If you had seen the results, people would have known last night who won. It would have been obvious. So for the final round we wanted to put a little bit of a mask up there to encourage people to vote wholeheartedly.”

Of course, there were plenty of disappointed voters in Savannah, but she assured McCammon there was no funny business going on behind the online curtain.

“It wasn’t rigged. It definitely wasn’t rigged. In fact, our editor-in-chief is from Savannah, so he’s disappointed I’m sure.”

While people watched the competition heat up on the web, Alexander says the biggest debate actually happened before the online battle: picking the 32 towns.

“That was the true heated debate. We had a lot of internal back and forth, so we had a bracket with 32 slots. So we could only pick 32 small southern towns. So that was really challenging, because there are so many great ones. We decided to make a population cutoff of 150,000, which I believe Savannah was probably the largest town in the bracket.”

The final bracket contained towns from 14 states, divided into the geographical regions of the Mid-South and Atlantic South. That way, says Alexander, the most popular town from each geographic group would end up playing in the final four.

So what does this competition mean for the finalists?

Alexander says she doesn’t know just yet, especially since the goal of the contest was to be more of a reader pleaser.

“We want to find something that our readers are passionate about and provoke them that way. But we’re not trying to necessarily trying to change the socioeconomics in the towns. But I think the exposure with some much media attention and so much social media attention to the bracket, it’s going to definitely put those cities and towns on the radar.”

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