HOW WE BUILT A FOLLOWING AROUND HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
On August 11, 2017, Starnes Digital kicked off a partnership with Starnes Publishing for the high school football season. It was the start of an ambitious project—we just didn’t know it at the time.
The 2017 Football Preview Magazine had just arrived to the office, ready to be delivered across the metro Birmingham area. After months of hard work, all the reporters, editors, and designers were excited to see the fruit of their labor. Why not shoot a quick video with Kyle Parmley, the sports editor, and Sam Chandler, the assistant sports editor, to share the news and build some hype?
The video was an instant hit, reaching 9,000 users on Facebook and garnering 3,500 views within five days—all this engagement for an impromptu, two-minute video announcing a football preview magazine. Our followers on social media clearly had a big appetite for high school football content in addition to Starnes Publishing’s coverage in The Homewood Star, Vestavia Voice, Village Living, Hoover Sun, and 280 Living. Opportunity was knocking on our door. All we had to do was answer it.
We decided to build a following around high school football with videos twice a week recapping Friday night’s games and previewing the week ahead. From the start, Kyle was a natural on camera, able to address the viewer and reel off stats and player names. Sam, on the other hand, looked shy. His talent as a writer simply didn’t translate to being in front of a camera as effortlessly as it did for Kyle. We also shot the first week of videos in a conference room, which was an easy environment to control but also a very boring one, ultimately. On top of that, our Facebook reach fell to 7,500 users and 2,500 views.
Needless to say, there were some things we had to improve, so we decided to shake things up: filming on-location for the “Game of the Week,” showing photos and video from the games we were recapping, and, of course, warming Sam up to the camera. We didn’t need to be perfect. We just needed to do a little bit better. One week at a time, that’s what we did, and we saw our following grow.
The pinnacle of the season was on October 28th for the Hoover-Thompson game. Hoover entered the match as the defending Class 7A state champions, while Thompson’s team starred a sensational, dual-threat quarterback who consistently racked up hundreds of yards every Friday night. Attendance matched the magnitude of the game as tens of thousands of people came out to the Hoover Met. The game not only lived up to the hype, it surpassed it, too. The two schools went back and forth all night, but with less than five minutes remaining, Thompson scored a touchdown and converted on a two-point attempt to pull ahead of Hoover for the win.
We knew this game was going to be a spectacle, so we had sent a freelance videographer to capture some footage and edit the highlights for us to be able to post with the story on the Hoover Sun’s website. By Monday morning, when we were filming the recap for all of Friday night’s games, the highlights of the Hoover-Thompson game had accumulated 44,000 views on Facebook.
The Hoover-Thompson game was lightning in a bottle for a brand new agency like Starnes Digital. We didn’t expect to carry those 44,000 followers through the rest of the season, but we knew we had made an impact on the community and given people a front-row seat to one of the season’s best games.
On December 7, 2017, we were officially done with covering the high school football season. We were at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa for the Class 5A state championship between Briarwood Christian Academy and St. Paul’s Episcopal. The game broke our hearts as we watched St. Paul’s pull ahead of Briarwood with less than a minute remaining to win the title.
Even though Briarwood suffered the loss, there were still a number of wins we knew as an agency we were bringing home. After the game, we went on Facebook Live with Kyle and Sam from Bryant-Denny, which was a big deal because, back in August, the only way we could have made being in front of the camera more uncomfortable for Sam was to broadcast it live. By the end of the season, though, he was as natural on camera as Kyle, and going on Facebook Live was no different.
Sam had grown a lot over the season, and so had our following. As people joined the stream, they were leaving comments, sharing the video, and reacting to the news. It may have taken us most of the season to accomplish it, but things were finally working the way they were supposed to work. We were creating content for our followers, and they were engaging with it in real time.
One of our followers commented, “It’s been an incredible season! Thank you for the coverage!” Indeed, it was an incredible season of high school football. When we set out to cover it, we didn’t know the scope of what we were undertaking nor the sheer value we were providing our followers. We learned a lot over the season, and as an agency, we’re better for it.
Check out all the football videos on our YouTube Channel.