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Transcript: Growing an Audience

Hi, everyone, and welcome back and welcome to this session, which is called growing an audience. I am Jeff Rozic from the WordPress.com team coming at you from Boulder, Colorado, USA. And I want to start by thanking you all for joining this session and for joining the summit as a whole. I hope you’re feeling relaxed and refreshed after a short break. And the last session. And I’m really excited about what we’re about to launch into right now. I’m very excited to be joined by 3 inspiring newsmakers, Steven J. Gaither, Tolly Carr and Wali Pitt. These are the founders and builders of HBCU Game Day, which covers a really important intersection of sports and culture. And I want to encourage everyone to ask questions of our guests. We have a lot to talk about. Time management is my problem, but please come at us with the questions. So let’s get right into it, guys. Thank you so much for joining us. I’m just going to ask you each for a quick self introduction. Where are you? What are you working on with your game day? And I will start with Stephen. Welcome, Stephen. Jeff, Thanks for having us on. My name is Stephen jagat, the founder of ABC game day. And I am ballenden from trautmann, North Carolina, which no one else on the set has. So thank you so much, sir. we’ll go to Wali next. Wali, please introduce yourself. Hi, I’m Wali Pitt. I am resident filmmaker, developer and video game day. Very nice. And great background, sir. And then finally, tell me, how are you doing today? Hey, Jeff. Doing good, man. My name is Tally. I’m in Atlanta and I’m the General Manager here at HBCU Game Day. I do a little bit of everything. I’m the old man of the crew. And Jeff, I compensate by wearing these young boy hoodies whenever I can, but I was just admiring the hoodie backstage. So thank you so much for wearing it. And guys really cannot thank you enough for joining us. I think I met you last summer and I’ve been inspired by your story and I’ve been reading the publication and there’s really a lot to talk about. Let’s make sure we set the table properly. I want to just I want to ask one of you to give an overview of exactly what game day is today and also how you started to spot this need for the publication that you are all now working on. And if it’s OK with you, Stephen, I’m going to go to you on this one. Please, please tell us about your game day and how you got started on it. Well, I think so, too. So today we’re a multimedia platform. We’ve got contributors. The three of us here are the main ones, but there’s both of us throughout the day at the ABC world. And it’s just a matter of capturing the energy and the greatness that surrounds you and historically black colleges and universities. For those who don’t know the acronym, they’re unique environment. They’ve produced some of the all time greats in pretty much every sport you can think of. And they’ve just been traditionally underserved in the mainstream media and in the digital media, especially. So that was the genesis of starting back in 2012. And then these two gentlemen here jumped in and turned it into what it is today, multipronged and just do the same. And so that’s kind of where we are today. That’s great. At 2012 historically black colleges and universities. And really it’s easy to look back and say, what a great time to cover this set of college sports. But we know there was many steps along the way. So we’ll cover a lot of those. I won’t ask all three of you to answer and answer all three questions, but I do want to ask all three of you about your backgrounds before jumping in and launching game day, because many in our audiences are at different turning points in careers and looking ahead to the future. So let me start with you. Since you since you identified as the most experienced news veteran and you share with us your background and also how you got here, how did you find your way into working on game day? I love that word the most experience. Kudos to that. Well, I come from the kind of linear analog age of broadcast television, commercial radio. That’s where I got my start. And so everything I did was on tape. You know, I started out splicing audio and putting tape back together at the radio station with grease pencils and razorblade. So just really Barney Rubble type stuff. And then working in broadcast television after that. And I was later in my career, was doing just a lot of freelance work. And this was around the turn of Twitter becoming like the main source of instant information. So we were kind of moving from that point in time where you would be like, OK, wait till 6 o’clock on Friday or Saturday. For your information, that was becoming the old guard in many respects. And the information was coming just like instantaneously. So I was working for a company and shooting a lot of sports and including black college football. And I was curious as to what would be happening at other games while I was at the particular game that I was at. And I just came across a new game day on Twitter one day. And it was like real time, like whatever was happening to states over or city over or conference over, know I was getting that information in real time. And so one day I finally just ran into Stephen at a North Carolina anti game. And so I was like, oh, that’s your company? He was like, Yeah. So I was my immediate question was. How many people work for you? There’s got to be like 10, 15 of you guys to keep up with scores like that, like not just me. And so I kind of show the differences between me carrying around this heavy camera to gather information. And Steve has got a fallen in his hand and he’s just shooting out scores all over the country. So I knew then that I could bring something that he didn’t have. And I knew that he had a bit of mastery of something that was becoming new to my world. So it was an easy kind of decision to start to slowly and then quickly join in with him and help him with what he was doing with the game. Did awesome. And bringing with you your silky smooth radio voice to now a universe of podcasting and video and of course, the hustle that Stephen had early on when it was just you. I’ll ask you about that just a second, sir. But Wali, how about you? When did you get involved and where were you coming from, if you don’t mind sharing? So, you know, I come from. My father was a newspaper publisher who covered a lot of books. So growing up, I was always go to the game. Every Saturday evening. It was just get dropped off. And my dad went to work. So I went to film school in Wilmington, North Carolina. It was just, you know, editing and kind of just living the nice cushy Ed life of snacks and long and long edits. And it kind of just didn’t really have a lot of value. And I wanted to kind of bring back something that my father did with what’s called the Black College sports review, which was in the newspaper. And I wanted to bring it back. It’s kind of like Bryant gumbel, real sports style thing. And so my dad, who had worked with tirelli for years because Tony is a staple in sports in winston-salem, North Carolina, and they were working on some deals. So he said, hey, let me hook you in with tirelli. I’m working on something with him. Let me plug you guys together and see if it works. And so we ended up connecting on was the first. Corporate deal, the game they had, it was video based, and so we all just kind of teamed up and we got through it and then once that deal ended, it just kind of felt like a fit. Has the TV Steeves knocking out the journalism and I kind of come in with the film side and kind of do more the cinematic stuff. And once we got through that first season we realized like, Oh OK, like this is working. And so we just made it work for a long time. We they put a ring on it and. Well, and that’s great. Thank you all. Well, we’ll come back later and talk about how you divide duties and responsibilities today, because I think I’m interested in that. But Stephen, when you were getting started and I’m sure as you started working on through 2012, where were you coming from? Were you in a journalistic background or just a passion that you had to start covering these sports in these colleges and teams? So as I said, I went to Winston-Salem State University and Winston-Salem is the common thread between the three of us. And so I journalism background there. Like everybody else, I wanted to work for the four letter network, ESPN and things like that. And when I was coming out of college in 2009 I was like the worst year ever to be trying to find a job, just period. So and journalism was already in a rut itself. So I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. And I decided after I realized that the whole working world figured I might as well do something I love to do. So I started covering high school sports, but I would try to keep up with the HBCUs from covering them. And there were some forums and sites that were great, but it wasn’t really one place where you could go consistently to find all the news kind of in real time and things like that. And so with me trying to make my mark and seeing that was there and I felt like it was needed, I just said, hey, you know what? Let let me go ahead and see what I do. If it was just a word at first, it was a WordPress.com blog. It wasn’t even a paid site. And then when I went to the dotcom, I was like, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. So I just went back to what I knew. And and then while he came along and put us on to the WordPress.com, they just added a whole another layer. So, yes, it’s just this has been a great journey. And I was lucky enough, just started walking. And, you know, you find folks to walk with you and pushing forward and forward. And that’s why we’re talking to you guys today. I just can’t emphasize enough the one foot in front of the other nature of your story, just not skipping a single step. Looking back at what you all done over the last bunch of years. I want to turn and talk about the audience in just a second. But if any of you three have something in mind from those early years of working together, whether it was challenge of understanding each other’s work styles or a moment where you realized you were on to something, I think while I already mentioned one of those. And the reason I ask this is because I know a lot of our audience is working solo and would seemingly dream of a pairing trio, in fact, of you three. But we know it’s not easy every step of the way. So it was there a moment that was either a great moment or a moment to overcome for any of you three? I think one of the things that you have to look for if you’re looking to scale anybody who’s an entrepreneur is probably just a little bit off like crazy in a good way, because what you’re doing, especially on the front end, just doesn’t make sense analytically, like the amount of time that you put in and the return on investment that you do not get, especially on the front end. It could be challenging and daunting. But when you see people who are willing to show up and nobody at the end of the day is more concerned about, well, where is the money, what am I going to get paid when the value is placed on the quality of the product? And you see, that’s the thing that permeates amongst the people that you’re with. You’ll know that you’re on the right path. And I hate cliches, but the money will come. It will come. But the quality and the integrity of the product has to be on the front end. That’s great. And both of you acknowledging Steven and looking ahead in the journalism field, knowing the uncertainty of the industry itself and just deciding in those moments to just go for it as a team and as a trio and just dive in and just make it happen. I just love it. We’ll we’ll come back and talk more about finding the story and how you’ve experimented with different formats. And so on. Let me ask you just a moment about the audience, because we’re all sports fans, so it’s a sports audience, but you’ve been able to extend and cover cultural issues. It has been great timing with some really interesting and awesome stories that have emerged in sports. But for any of you three, what do you know? Not not necessarily from an SEO and tools standpoint. Welcome to that in a second too. But just what do you know about your audience? How do they resonate out of your stories, resonate with your audience? What do they get pumped up about personality driven stuff or their schools that they follow or whatever it might be? Well, I’ll say and I’ll probably toss it to Steve for more specific answers, since this is a wheelhouse, but ABC Sports is a community that is local. In ideals, but not in physicality, right, like there’s people in North Carolina, Texas, Florida, they’re all over the place. But, you know, it is a local community. We all share some of the same things. So one thing we had to do was to stop looking at it as, oh, well, this is a national thing where at its core, the core of what we’re doing is we’re serving what is a local community. It’s just not local physically, like I said. And so that is one thing that I think separated us, is we look at sports fans as like they are whole, whether you’re in Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Maryland or whatever. And I think there is a lot of like my school, my school, my school. But one thing that is like a higher level than people love in their school is they love. And so if we can and Steve is doing a great job of can tailor a story that’s about one school to have messages that everyone resonates with. So they’re not just like not about my school scroll, you know what I mean? And so from like a macro level, I think we all kind of realize that. And I’ll let Steve take it just in terms of, like, the actual content itself, you know? Yeah, I think Wylie definitely hit it on the head, I mean, at the core, it’s about HBCUs users are about community. They are like while you said, you know, just growing up, you will go to those games and those types of experiences stay with people, whether or not they end up going to the HQ that they went to or whether or not they end up with ABC News at all. I mean, a lot of our audience are people that are alumni or students of a specific school. And while they said they’re mainly focused on their school, but there’s another level of that as well, that folks that don’t necessarily have a particular HQ that they’re connected to or that they attended or that they paid their money to. I think the global connect in the local and global is a very fine dance, but it’s a community and just there are things that resonate with people that are across the board. So we might go to a game like we might go to a game in North Carolina and you may live in California. But if you grew up watching that school or if you went to that school or whatever, you’re still going to be connected to it. So I always thought the ABC was where they were in one way, like a mini like a big super conference just in different pockets. And I think that’s kind of what we found and just trying to make it to where it appeals to a mass audience as well as on the micro level to. I love it. Well, I want to get in some tactical stuff, because there’s a few things that have jumped out at me as far as how you’ve all just dealt with each challenge, technically, audience centric revenue and monetization. So just to kind of quick overview on each of these next couple of topics from whoever thinks they have something insightful to say about it. And it’s a tricky one because I know all three of you work on each of these things together, but the first one has to do with audience. I was struck by how hands on talli, for example. You talked about using tools to understand your audience and every time you published a story really caring about how the audience is going to find their way to it. So let’s start with just audience tools like don’t have to get too specific here, but just how do you think how have you managed to prioritize this while focusing on the journalism craft? Well, it’s all algorithms, right? So the CEO will do the work for you and it’ll give you a tutorial in the process. And ours is a lot of people out there watching can probably relate to you want to get that light green and you start to understand. And over time it becomes muscle memory of how you get there. You have to keep the integrity of your journalism and APA style and then all the things that you’re taught to do. But is just becomes like this internal cheat sheet and then you have to reverse engineer. And what I love to do is go back and see which we can find. Right and WordPress.com, where our recommendations are coming from, where our traffic is coming from, and then going to those sites and seeing how people interact and engage on those specific platforms and see which region of interest with schools, which type of stories resonate more on different platforms. So it’s kind of like that engineering on the front end and then trying to reverse it once it’s out there in the world. I love it. And if there’s an organization you want to look to for balancing, understanding the audience, using tools to do so, but still writing or delivering the story that matters, this is the one for me you game to. I love how you all do that. We’re contending with a bit of a lightning round here because there’s some good customer questions, your audience questions coming in. Then I want to get to how about on the revenue side and don’t share anything that you don’t want to share to specifically. But just in general, what’s the revenue mix? Is it is it mostly from ads? Are there other sources of revenue to just from a broad standpoint, what’s kind of the revenue mix for the business? And I don’t know who I should ask that. Well, if he’s going to answer it, I’m going to ask what I’ve got. I can tell you when we started, it was a lot of beating your head against the wall and trying a bunch of stuff that doesn’t work. And once we had to meet people where they are. We had a lot of people who knew we were on Twitter but didn’t know we had a website. Don’t know we have a YouTube page. You don’t really have a TV show. So we kind of had to, like, bond all of those people together. And the website is the way to do it because it’s what we own, right. Facebook can flip the algorithm tomorrow and we can make no money and there’s nothing we can do about it. So we kind of just said, OK, the is our hub. Right? and we do have programmatic revenue. We have ad partners. We have like polys wearing the cross color hoodie. We have a partnership with them, but it’s mainly programmatic revenue and driving all of these people that we’re trying to attach to. Like if we send a tweet, we try to have a link back to our website within the tweet. So that somebody may click, may watch a story, may scroll past it, and we may make some money, little steps like that. And the rest of it, like the learning, the process, like I can guarantee that’s going to come at a time, like you’re going to fall on your face several times. You’re going to make lots of mistakes in revenue and you’re just going to get up, dust off and try the next one. And, you know, and once we hit a certain number, once we got our audience to a certain place, people started calling us, you know what I mean? The same people we were cold call in and cold emailing. We’re not like we’ve never heard from you before. We were like, OK, you know, but that’s just how it is. So, like, my advice would be like, get that audience, get your traffic up, get your audience, try a bunch of different ad revenues, Google ad sense, whatever, but like keep focusing on the one that works like is going to knock on your door. You know, I love it. I have two more quick questions. Then we’ll take just one or two from the audience, which we’ll see on screen. I’m going to direct these first ones to tali as a guy who’s worked in every sports media format there is now that you are all working together and experimenting with podcasting video, some of it looks and all looks fantastic. You can see a lot of it on the site. You can go to YouTube and see a great body of video work and so on. How do you decide which story gets which media? We have this ongoing conversation with our audience almost on a daily basis. So I don’t know how familiar you guys out there are with the schools. But Dion Sanders, who everybody who follow sports should know, is now the head football coach at Jackson State. It’s almost been a year he changed our revenue model like he did for a lot of people because he bought a lot of nontraditional fans and he awakened a lot of fans that had been sleeping because of I got Deion Sanders is here. So guess what? We do a lot of Jackson State contest because people watch it. You know, it’s no different than when you listen to sports radio. People want to say, who’s better, LeBron or michael? You know, Dak Prescott, how much money should he get? You know, those were things that some people probably get tired of. But the engagement is there, the views are there, the comments are there. So we try to keep the balance, of course. But if you find something that works. Good lord, man, use it to make it happen. I love it. Well, last one for me and then we’ll have time for just one or two from the audience. And this one goes back to Stephen. Now that you’ve covered this coming up on 10 years here. And again, there’s been some stories that have really hit hard culturally and there’s others that go to just take people on daehan or the latest hiring of all kinds of former athletes now taken on great leadership roles at universities. Do you realize the impact you’re making with your audience and just making sure that these stories are getting professional treatment from you all? And is that meaningful for you or do you not even have time to slow down and appreciate it, stephen? I think it’s definitely meaningful. You know, just in the past year. I always said with Diana coming in, we brought a lot of cash is brought a lot of people who mainly wouldn’t care necessarily about sports or think about that. But, you know, as I just look forward, 2012, a lot of momentum is happening behind HBCUs and I think I don’t think we’ve seen the top of it yet and all of the it’s great. And you look back at all of the struggles that you had and the times where you do a really good and quality stuff and it just wasn’t connecting or wasn’t getting us the results that we wanted to put us in a position of where we are now, you know, to be able to benefit from it. And even when people complain about covering somewhat too much of this or too much, and that is still in the ecosystem, that allows us to go cover some other stuff as well. When those stories do well, that normally we would have to really decide if it was, we wouldn’t have the time to do it. Kind of allows for the other stuff, too. So I’m just happy that we’ve been able to get out in front of it. And now that things are really happening in this space, that new game day is always going to be talked about and always be there at the forefront. Excellent well, there’s just over a minute remaining shot. Clock turned off, no timeouts. Let’s take one question, at least from the audience. There’s been a couple of good ones. What mistakes did you make? What barriers did you encounter along the way? What you learn? Give us one mistake. Whoever’s got a really good one. Listening to other people, trust yourself, trust yourself, if you don’t let anybody who’s not an expert at what you do to you should be doing it this way, you’re doing it that way. Like if you’re focused on the path and it’s purpose driven and you’re like, hey, this is what we’re doing by trying, like failing, it’s only a mistake if you don’t learn from it. That’s that’s what I kind of how I roll in life. So, I mean, like, don’t let anybody knock you off your pedestal. Keep going. I love it. If there’s time for one more, throw it up on screen. And if not, I will. Here we go. Starting out. Other than telling friends, what were your most successful outreach methods to build the audience? Make it a quick one. I think social media, there was a time before that algorithm got really tight on Facebook that we were putting content out there and it was just blooming and blossoming things that have kind of tightened up since then. But we were in the right place at the right time with social media to really get things out there, especially not a lot of digital coverage because especially visually and that was a real sweet spot for us. And importantly, we rap on this really, really great insight all around. Importantly, bringing the audience back to your site. It’s a beautiful site, game day, dotcom. Everybody, please check it out, support them, follow them on social media. Guys, I cannot thank you enough for taking time out of a very busy time on the sports calendar and joining us. Thank you all so much, Steven Tyler. And while you have a great have a great rest of your day Thanks to.

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