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Nigel Burton Wants Listeners To Stop Spinning Their Wheels

“It’s kind of all the good stuff. It’s the fun stuff. But the stuff that’s rewarding is the hard stuff and that’s the stuff that you miss.”

Brian Noe

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The sports radio medium isn’t crawling with hosts that have 15 years of college football coaching experience under their belt. Nigel Burton is one of the few who does. It’s part of a noteworthy background that Nigel brings to the airwaves in Portland, Oregon.

Coaches obviously have to be knowledgeable, but they also need to possess the ability to explain what they know in ways that other people can easily understand. It sounds like the foundation of a good sports radio host, doesn’t it?

Nigel hosts morning drive with Dan Sheldon on 620 Rip City Radio. Making the transition from the sideline to the studio is a topic of conversation below. Nigel also hits on many other interesting subjects like football being played during a pandemic, the most rewarding aspect of coaching, and how Colin Kaepernick surprised him following their days together at Nevada. Nigel is a compelling dude. He’s got an assortment of life experiences that help shape his wise perspective. His words and examples can help open eyes and minds. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What does your coaching resume look like?

Nigel Burton: I coached for about 15 years, all Division I, FBS or FCS. I did a grad assistant at South Florida. I coached the secondary at Portland State. Then I coached the secondary at Oregon State. I was the defensive coordinator at Nevada and then I was the head coach at Portland State.

BN: What did you learn most from coaching?

NB: I think the one thing I learned was if you keep your standards high, like 99 percent of people will try to rise to whatever standard you keep. The other 1 percent will probably just go to jail. [Laughs] So don’t worry about it.

In terms of X’s and O’s, man, that’s a never-ending deal. You may think you have it down but that’s why all these coaches that have been doing it for 50 years are still doing clinics. You can always learn something new or a different way to do it. There are guys who can win championships running triple option or the Air Raid. There are guys who have won championships doing spread and guys will do it doing Two-Back Pro West Coast. It’s a never-ending process.

BN: What does your sports radio resume look like?  

NB: That’s a little shorter. Sports radio has just been Rip City Radio since 2016. Obviously I had done interviews and things like that before. Pac-12 Network and NBC Sports Northwest — actually it started with NBC Sports Northwest, that’s how I kind of even got in. After I got fired from Portland State is when the Ducks made their run in the CFP and beat Florida State in Mariota’s last year there. That’s how I got into doing TV. Then I got Pac-12 Network that fall and then Rip City Radio the following fall.

BN: What did you learn early on about sports radio that you hadn’t known before you did it?

NB: Well I had to learn other sports as well as I knew football. The amount of study and prep, I guess I didn’t know getting into it. I’ve got a great co-host that I get along with even though sometimes it seems like we don’t. But I trust him. He just does a good job of bringing the best out of me in terms of knowing when to tell personal stories, when to get on the soapbox, and when to crack jokes. We just have good timing and good rapport.

BN: Is there anything you learned from Dan [Sheldon] just by doing a show alongside him for so long?

NB: A ton. I’ve learned a lot about basketball because that’s his forte. I learned a lot of just how to analyze it. I’ve learned a lot in terms of how things are seen from a media perspective. A lot of things I still see as a student-athlete or as a coach and he sees them from a media perspective. It’s just interesting how we can see the same thing, and yet from different angles.

BN: What’s something about football that media members who never coached tend to get wrong?

NB: I think a lot of media and people in general are just really jaded about the motivating factors of coaches. They see the Pete Carroll’s, the Nick Saban’s, and Jim Harbaugh making 9 million dollars. What they don’t realize is the amount of work and $10,000 jobs that are out there. The reason that these guys are coaching for the most part is because they love kids and they love the game.

There are clearly business aspects to it, but I’ve yet to meet somebody who got into it thinking “I’m doing this so I can make money.” Anybody who’s gotten into it for that doesn’t last very long.

I think they see a coach do something, a certain type of behavior, or make a decision and they automatically go to, oh it was because he made a business decision. A lot of times you have to make tough decisions that are actually in the best interest of either the team or the kids. I think people just think that it’s cut and dry, like “what’s best for me?” and things like that. I haven’t met a whole lot of guys who got into coaching and that’s the way they think.

BN: What’s the toughest decision you ever had to make as a coach?  

NB: When to dismiss a kid or suspend him. Those are hard deals. I had to fire a guy that I was really close to on my staff. That might have actually been the worst because we were damn near best friends. Those are the hardest because — at least I did — I felt like I wanted to save everybody. When you finally get to the point where you’re like this is not salvageable, it’s just hard to come to that realization and then have to pull the trigger.

I suspended a kid one time who had just — it was like a thousand small cuts and after a while it had gotten to the other players and it had gotten to other guys on the staff. I suspended him for his last game as a senior. Looking back on it I actually regret it. I listened to some other people and as opposed to saying you know what, it’s the last game, he’s going to be gone, and maybe he grows up. I feel like now that’s something that will never be repairable. That’s unfortunate because my favorite part about coaching is seeing who they become after they leave and having that great relationship. That one will be soiled forever.

BN: Many players who retire try to fill that void with something else. How does it break down for you as a former coach? Does sports radio fill some of that void?

NB: It will never fill what coaching did because it’s like raising a kid versus babysitting. You raise a child, you can see all the hard work and all the crap you went through and all the good times. They’re your responsibility, and then you put them out in the world and you see them succeed, or even when they fail and they have to come back and they need help. It’s not the same as doing it from afar or stepping in every now and again. But I still get a fix. I still get to watch sports for a living and talk about it and have fun. It’s kind of all the good stuff. It’s the fun stuff. But the stuff that’s rewarding is the hard stuff and that’s the stuff that you miss.

BN: What’s your opinion about college football and the NFL playing during the pandemic?

NB: I totally understand the NFL because it’s a business. I think the NFL was going to play no matter what. As long as they can keep their players relatively safe; they’re getting paid for a risky job anyway.

College is a different animal because you have a responsibility to those kids’ parents and they’re still quasi kids. You have a different level of responsibility there. I feel like for the most part the way that the Pac-12 and the Big Ten handled things was the right way to do it.

I think there was a level of irresponsibility by just saying well we’re just going to play through it. All the quotes we heard about “we’ve got to run money through the state of Oklahoma” and “more concerned with guys playing than their long-term health.” There were too many questions to just forge ahead the way that a lot of conferences did.

You’ve got teams that now have a hundred kids who had COVID. That’s insane. Especially when you don’t know. You don’t really know what the long-term consequences are going to be. I think with what the Pac-12 and the Big Ten are doing now with daily tests and all these other built-in protocols to help with some of the long-term issues that we at least know about at this point. I think it was a much more responsible way to approach it.

BN: Are you good with college football moving ahead now that technology has changed?

NB: If everybody could have done what the NFL did and tested every single day back in July, then we would have been good. You could have isolated somebody quickly enough where that you didn’t get these issues that we’re seeing at – name the school – Kansas State, Syracuse, Florida State, Colorado State, LSU, Oklahoma, Missouri, Houston. It’s crazy.

When you’re only testing a portion of the student-athletes, not all of them, and you’re only doing it every couple of days or whatever; there was just too much time where someone could be put in harm’s way.

With that changing, I feel better about it. I don’t feel good with, “oh we’ll just all get in and it’ll be fine.” I think that’s asinine. That’s why to me I’ve always been against high school playing until this gets under control because high schools can’t test at all. The only reason that you haven’t seen bad results is because they’re not testing those kids at all. You just don’t even know. Unfortunately there are a lot of kids that I recruited who live with their grandparents, live with all kinds of people who are susceptible to this virus or dying. I scratch my head at that one, man. For what? Just play five months later. Who cares?

BN: What are you thoughts on player protests in the NFL and NBA, and the reaction to it? 

NB: As long as they’re in America, they can do whatever the hell they want to do. This idea that you’re here to entertain me and I don’t want anything else – I don’t care about your family, I don’t care about what you go through, I just think it’s rooted in this idea that some people are only here for other people’s entertainment and I don’t care about your humanity. I think that’s rooted in — I’m sorry, I’m going to go ahead and say it — I think it’s rooted in white supremacy, that I don’t identify with you. I see you as different and you’re only here for this reason. So I don’t want to know anything else about you.

They don’t mind when they hear about these feel good parts of their story. What they don’t want to hear about are the things that a lot of these student-athletes and professional athletes have to go through when the lights turn off. That then changes their narrative of what a lot of people have been told their whole lives about America. “I would rather stay deaf, dumb, and blind to it” is what I think a lot of people’s rationale is, because it makes me sleep better at night or it makes me feel good about what my grandparents achieved or whatever.

I don’t know what their deal is. I could really give a crap about the reaction. If someone wants to talk about the things that are affecting their life and it’s rooted in truth, even if it’s their personal truth, then I’m all for it.

BN: Have you noticed a change in tone with how the sports media talks about social issues following George Floyd’s death?

NB: Yeah, night and day, because the bosses are listening. When Kap took a knee, I was coaching at Nevada when Kap played there. We’ve got all kinds of Kap stories.

There were like two offensive players that would come to my house all the time, Kap and this kid Marko Mitchell. Everybody else was all defensive guys. When Kap took a knee, it was personal for me because I know him. I heard all of these discouraging things — I had little white kids in Lake Oswego telling me how they hated Colin Kaepernick. I was like “What? You don’t even know who he is! Man, sit down, little boy; let me tell you who this kid is.”

There was this adamant, heels dug in, I don’t care what I’ve seen, and I think what changed with George Floyd and what changed with America was we didn’t have any distractions. We’re all in our homes and we had to deal with it. I couldn’t turn the channel and just watch sports because there were no sports to watch. I couldn’t turn the TV off and go to the movie theater and just watch a movie or watch a play because all of that was gone. We had to deal with it and that was different. Once the bosses couldn’t turn it off either, people started halfway paying attention and halfway listening. Now sports media was allowed to talk about it more because where else could people go?

BN: What would be the ideal reaction from white America to the things that have gone on in this country and player protests — what would you want it to be in a perfect world?

NB: I think everything that’s wrong with our country begins with a lack of acknowledgement. There are certain people in this country who want minorities, or people who deal with racial issues, or the Me Too movement or whatever, to just move on. It’s whataboutisms and all these other things. It’s like asking a sexual assault victim to just move on with their life without acknowledging what happened to them. That would never work.

The part that’s crazy is you use that analogy and people understand that. But somehow when it comes to race because we’re in such denial in this country about race and racism and our history that somehow it applies to sexual assault, it applies to domestic violence because those are issues that white people also deal with, but racism? No no no! That’s got to be something different. It’s like “No dude, not only is it the same, it might be worse.”

If you just ask me what would the perfect world be, it starts with acknowledgement. If America would ever acknowledge that and if white people would ever acknowledge it, then once you acknowledge it and you accept it, now we can start to talk about real remedies. But if you continue to lie to yourself that that’s not really what it is, you’re kind of spinning your wheels. You’ll never get to the real crux of the issue or how to fix things.

BN: When you go back to Colin Kaepernick and knowing him, was it the least bit surprising seeing what he did in 2016 by kneeling for the anthem?

NB: I was surprised actually. It’s different because I was a coach so I didn’t hang out with him. It’s like our kids. You know your kids, but do you know who they are when you’re not around? I don’t know ‘em. He wasn’t like a super boisterous guy. He was kind of a quiet, thoughtful dude. So that part wasn’t surprising, but I don’t recall hearing about a whole lot of conversations involving race. I don’t remember him being a political thought leader or anything like that. But when you look at his background, being biracial, being adopted by a white family, and if you know anything about [his hometown] Turlock [California], you can definitely see how his experiences will start to mold this person who would recognize that there are a lot of wrongs in the world.

He was always highly intelligent, one of the smartest dudes on our team. Everybody respected him. It was just surprising to see him put himself out there like that because that just wasn’t who he was. He wasn’t a guy who would try to stick out at an event. That wasn’t him. But then there are all of these other things that make you go “okay I get why he came to this conclusion.” A lot of us have. But that fortitude to put himself out there like that was wild.

BN: Looking forward in your career, is there anything that you would specifically like to do in sports media or beyond?

NB: I think I’d like to call games eventually. I’ve done it a few times, like the spring games and things. Mainly because I get tired of hearing guys who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. [Laughs] It’s funny because I’ve sat in so many different production meetings and when you get players who do analysis, they know their position. They might know something else, but they definitely don’t know all of it. It’s clear.

The beauty of being a coach is I’ve coached linebackers. I’ve coached secondary. I’ve had to school myself up on d-line play. I’ve had to study o-line play so I knew how to attack it. I had to understand how quarterbacks go through different progressions in different systems. I coached wide receivers for a short period of time. I coached every special team that there was.

You have this intricate knowledge of everything and so when I’ll listen to a d-lineman talk about how to catch a football, I’m like “Oh my God dude! What are you talking about?” That’s why I love quarterbacks because for the most part a quarterback has to have some understanding of what everybody is doing, getting guys lined up and how to read defenses, but even half the time they screw up. That’s why coaches to me are always really fun to listen to in the box because if you’ve got somebody who can communicate well, they can really tell you what’s happening. So I’d like to call games.

BN: What’s the percentage chance that you’d ever be a coach again?

NB: I don’t know, man. I’m still helping. I coach my kid’s youth teams. I’m going to coach at my kid’s high school and help to coach my daughter in basketball. I still get some of those little fixes. I don’t need to go back to working 100-hour weeks.

I coached a 6th grade football team and there was this one kid who drove everybody insane. I just kept talking to him. He would drive me nuts but I just kept talking to him. At the end of the year he ended up being a pretty good little player and he wrote me a card. I swear to God, I damn near started crying when I read this card. I still have that card. It was four years ago. The reason you do it is to affect young people’s lives and to get that fix of competitiveness. But it’s mainly about helping other kids achieve more than they could have on their own and being a positive influence on their lives. I can still get that. I don’t need to be making six figures or out recruiting to get that. So I don’t know, man. If I can still get it this way, then maybe not ever. We’ll see.

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Sports Radio Advertising is a Great Alternative to Expensive Team Sponsorships

There are plenty of creative ways to tie into sports radio stations, where the fans listen daily, and the investment is often much less than team sponsorships.

Jeff Caves

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Photo of Citi Field in New York
Photo Credit: Stadium Sponsorship

Not everyone can afford to sponsor a local NFL or college football team. However, there are plenty of creative ways to tie into sports radio stations, where the fans listen daily, and the investment is often much less than team sponsorships. Here are some ideas:

Pitchmen for Hire: Leverage Local Personalities

Thousands of listeners tune in to hear local sports personalities discuss their favorite teams. Hiring these “football expert” personalities to represent your business can significantly boost your ad response. Their endorsement can help you rise above the fray and double your ad response.

Get More Bang for Your Buck: Stand Out

Tie into station activities that make your brand stand out. Sponsor the local team poll on the station’s website, host a remote broadcast the day before a big game, or sponsor a charity promotion and donate to the cause. Breaking through the clutter of commercial breaks requires creativity and involvement in station activities.

Tie into Local Teams Without Sponsoring Them

You don’t have to sponsor the local team to run a promotion about them. Consider running ads offering discounts if the team wins and even more significant discounts if they lose. Your ad rep can help you phrase these promotions to avoid legal issues. True fans listen to sports radio weekly for team-related content, so tap into that passion.

Become a Title Sponsor

Be the title sponsor for interview segments with local players. If the station is conducting regular player interviews, sponsor these segments. If shows don’t run many interviews, consider sponsoring newscasts that feature excerpts from these interviews.

Hire Retired Fan Favorites

Retired players beloved by fans can be an excellent asset for your business. They are often less expensive than current stars but still hold significant appeal. Think of players like Mike Alstott, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, or Nate Newton. These personalities can do spots or appear at your location, adding a memorable touch to your advertising efforts.

Adopt a ‘Mattress Mack’ Strategy

Make an offer based on the local team’s success, like Gallery Furniture in Houston‘s Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale. In 2022, he offered customers double their money back if the Astros won the World Series. Such promotions generate significant publicity and engage the local community, even if the offer is temporary.

Sponsoring a local NFL or major college football team may be out of reach for many clients. Still, numerous creative strategies exist to maximize a sports radio advertising investment. By leveraging local personalities, participating in station activities, and creatively tying your promotions to local sports teams, you can effectively break through the clutter and make a lasting impression on listeners. Engaging fans with innovative offers and memorable endorsements enhances your brand’s visibility and builds a loyal customer base.

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Caitlin Clark Media Coverage is Good for Everybody in the WNBA

By tuning in to see what Clark does, viewers are also noticing the many other great WNBA players.

John Molori

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Screengrab from ESPN's Get Up covering Caitlin Clark
Screengrab: ESPN Get Up

It’s time to talk about Caitlin Clark. The rookie guard for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever has become a legit phenomenon in the media. She has singlehandedly, and I repeat, singlehandedly put the focus on a league that has been largely ignored by mainstream sports talk shows for a quarter century.

Nobody wants to admit that one person can change a sport or a league. It is viewed as a slight to people who came before that special athlete and that special athlete’s contemporaries, but it has happened on numerous occasions, and we’ll get to that.

From a marketing and media standpoint, Caitlin Clark is a human tidal wave of interest, excitement, and anticipation. She quite literally brought tens of millions of eyes to the 2024 Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament, and deservedly so, she will most likely earn tens of millions of endorsement dollars from a variety of corporations and their products. She has inspired congratulations and controversy, especially with her recent exclusion from the USA Basketball Women’s National team.

The reaction to Clark’s success and attention from some members of the media and WNBA players has been shocking. Tremendous commentators such as Andraya Carter, Chiney Ogwumike, and Rebecca Lobo have, at times, come off as apologists for WNBA players who are just plain jealous of Clark’s unprecedented popularity.

As ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith has explained eloquently, these critics are missing the point from a marketing and economic perspective. Clark has not only helped herself with her play, but has also brought attention and focus to women’s hoops as a whole.

By tuning in to see what Clark does, viewers are also noticing the many other great WNBA players. Clark is that rare breed of athlete who is truly changing the game, making it better and more profitable not only for herself, but for everyone involved at all levels.

On recent editions of ESPN’s First Take, Smith has gone toe to toe with Carter, Ogwumike, and Monica McNutt on the Caitlin Clark issue. The fascinating exchange between Smith and McNutt on the June 3 edition was a watershed moment in recent sports television.

Smith, McNutt, and host Molly Qerim were discussing the hard foul/shove that Chicago’s Chennedy Carter laid on Clark in a WNBA game. The course of the discussion moved toward the rise in WNBA ratings mainly because of Clark’s presence in the league.

The debate eventually came down to a back-and-forth between Smith and McNutt. Smith reiterated his longtime dedication to the WNBA and women’s sports in general. In response, McNutt said that with Smith’s platform, he could’ve been talking as much about the WNBA three years ago, long before Clark’s debut.

Smith was visibly angered and disappointed by McNutt’s comments. On The Stephen A. Smith Show podcast that same day, he defended himself and his show, saying that First Take has been at the forefront of promoting gender, race, age, and all forms of equality and respect.

Smith is 100% correct. This chap has been a champion of women, minorities, and even older media personalities, such as Christopher Russo, whom he has brought to a whole new audience on First Take. Stephen A. Smith is the Arsenio Hall and David Letterman of sports talk. When the syndicated Arsenio Hall Show hit the airwaves in 1989, he was the first late night host to bring hip-hop artists to center stage on a regular basis.

Similarly, Letterman’s “Late Night” on NBC showcased new talent in comedy and music, while bringing irreverence and originality to the tired old talk show format. Smith has done the same. He has made stars out of Ryan Clark, Mina Kimes, Marcus Spears, Kimberley Martin, and many others. He has also raised the profile of already renowned commentators such as Shannon Sharpe, Qerim, and the aforementioned Russo.

Smith has been a stalwart of equity, but that’s not what McNutt was saying. She was saying that with his audience, Smith could’ve talked about the WNBA thereby creating popularity and exposure for the league long before now.

McNutt’s jarring comment put Smith in a humbled position and really hit at his very core, but he took his game to a whole new level the very next day. McNutt was back on First Take, which right there shows the utter gumption that Smith possesses. He could’ve easily let things settle down a bit before he brought McNutt back on the show, but he didn’t. That’s classic Smith – encouraging discourse and disagreement.

When you get to the level of a Stephen A. Smith, you welcome a debating challenge. The last guests you want are sycophantic suck-ups who cowardly agree, no matter what the subject. Smith’s high point on the June 4 episode was when he said in a loud voice, “Caitlin Clark is white.”

He acknowledged the fact that it makes a difference. He also stated that black players who have been just as talented as Clark have not been given their rightful attention – also true. Regarding the perceived negative treatment of Clark by some WNBA players, Smith made it clear that they should not go easy on Clark on the court, but their mindsets need to recognize that Clark is benefitting the WNBA and putting dollars in their collective pockets.

Whether you agree with Smith or not, the fact is that this is what special players like Caitlin Clark do. They raise the level of discussion and simultaneously raise the profile of their respective sports. The WNBA is now in the A-block on highly rated shows like First Take and ESPN’s Get Up.

The league and its players are on the front burner of discussion for Smith, Nick Wright, Colin Cowherd and many other top-tier, multimedia sports debaters. This fact was straight up impossible one year ago. This is what Caitlin Clark has done.

Clark’s impact and stamp on women’s basketball is not unique. There are precedents where one person has made such a difference.

Larry Bird looked different, played different, restored a dead Celtics franchise, and made his mark in a sport that was on life support in terms of media coverage and fan interest. Bird and Magic Johnson rescued the league – a black man on the west coast and a white man on the east coast, two wunderkinds who changed the NBA forever. Caitlin Clark is Larry Bird.

Tiger Woods burst onto the PGA TOUR and won the Masters in 1997, embarking on a run that would see him change the game of golf from a competitive, performance, historic standpoint, and social standpoint. He was charismatic, focused, and yes, an African American phenom smashing records in a white-dominated sport. Caitlin Clark is Tiger Woods.

In 1965, Alabama quarterback Joe Namath eschewed the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals and signed with the AFL’s New York Jets. He raised the profile of the league and garnered more attention and dollars than established AFL stars which made him a target. As the league’s popularity grew however, opposing players recognized his significance beyond the field. They did not go easy on him during games, just ask his knees, but they knew that his success was theirs as well. Namath was the key figure in the eventual AFL/NFL merger. Caitlin Clark is Joe Namath.

Serena Williams was smart, savvy, athletic, fashion conscious, and just plain great. Williams shattered the traditional mold and became an iconoclastic figure in women’s tennis with both her play and personae. The lineage with her sister Venus ushered in a new era in the sport. Serena attacked the game in a unique way. She was exciting and original, and lifted her sport and fellow athletes. Caitlin Clark is Serena Williams.

I am not saying that Clark will have a legendary or Hall of Fame career akin to these illustrious athletes, but the immediate impact she has had on her sport and the media coverage of her sport is similar.

As Smith so often states, Clark is “box office.” You can debate the reasons why, but you cannot debate the fact that she has supremely raised the profile and the financial prospects of women’s basketball and its players.

I understand that other WNBA players want their share of the credit for improving the league. I also understand that WNBA commentators want fairness and equity in terms of attention and the spotlight. However, both groups need to realize that Clark is the main reason that they are getting this increased exposure. On the court, be competitive against Clark and try to beat her and her team. On the air, be critical of Clark and analyze her game, but on a larger scale, understand, accept, and embrace that Caitlin Clark’s most important assist might just be to you.

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Joe Tipton Turned Sports Graphics Into a National Reporting Role With On3

“There’s definitely a competitive aspect of it, which I really enjoy actually because it just kind of keeps you on your toes.”

Derek Futterman

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(Illustration) | Courtesy: On3

In the moments when athletes make a monumental decision about their playing careers, news outlets frequently try to cover the story in a timely and accurate manner. Whether it is signing with a new team in free agency, inking a new endorsement deal or retiring, basketball has plenty of these occurrences annually. These announcements are sometimes accompanied by graphics, adding visual elements of branding and allure to the development. Joe Tipton learned the nuances of photo editing and graphic design at a young age, leading him to create images of NBA players and share them on social media. Observing a lack of interest within the space, he considered doing the same for high school players nearing college commitments.

Tipton Edits, an independent business venture that he began shortly after starting in sports graphic design, provides athletes with a free edit in which their new uniform is superimposed onto an image divulging their new team. These recruits then share the photos on social media and tag Tipton. Especially at the start of the entrepreneurial property, he viewed gaining followers as remuneration, an invaluable currency as digital media continues its swift proliferation.

“I didn’t start making the graphics at 17 to have a job in it – I was just kind of doing it on the side for fun and then just kind of [seeing] where it would go,” Tipton said. “Since I was one of the first people to make graphics for these high school players in their recruiting decisions and now transfers, and now that I’ve built up the presence online and the credibility and the reputation, a lot of them will flock to me, and I think that’s what’s so sustainable about it now.”

The transfer portal keeps Tipton busy in creating and delivering graphics to collegiate athletes moving to a new school. Remaining prepared to create an enticing visual featuring the player in their new uniform and distributing it on social media requires a commitment to the craft. Even though he was a marketing student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, he was still trying to determine the best path forward and ended up transforming his hobby into a sustainable career.

“I was able to communicate with high-level basketball players and create something for them – and all of it free of charge – in exchange just for a tag on Instagram and Twitter, which helped propel me and grow my brand and following online,” Tipton said, “and over the years, [it] got me to where I am now.”

By designing these graphics in advance, Tipton was privy to coveted information and recognized that he could effectively reveal where players were signing. His work has been featured on various sports outlets such as ESPN and Bleacher Report and shared by NBA legends including Shaquille O’Neal and Scottie Pippen.

On3, a digital sports media brand that delivers news, analysis and insights to consumers regarding college sports, recruiting and NIL, added Tipton as a national basketball reporter after he graduated from college. Since that time, he has established himself as a distinguished journalist covering high school and college basketball.

“[I] had an opportunity to join On3 because basically what I was doing when supplying the graphic to a high school recruit and even transfers now in the portal, I am being gifted the knowledge of where a player is going,” Tipton said, “so I’m able to report that information, and that’s basically what I serve as now for On3.”

Joining On3 provided him with another platform to disseminate this information and expand his audience while assisting the company in its own growth. Shannon Terry founded On3 in 2021, and the platform has continued to expand with dedicated coverage of NIL, the transfer portal and the NFL Draft, along with adding subsidiary verticals such as On3 Elite and On3 HER.

“When it comes to the transfers and their decision making, it’s so rapid fire, and there’s so many players that enter the transfer portal because of NIL, because of instant opportunities and also the ability to play right away and not have to sit out like the previous rules stated,” Tipton articulated, “so it increased the need for what I do and just the coverage of the transfer portal in general has taken a significant leap, which is great for those who cover the portal and recruiting in general.”

Tipton earned a contract extension at On3 earlier in the year, but he has always operated with a chip on his shoulder to prove that he is more than just a graphic designer. While he is a recent graduate and continuing to shape his identity and forge relationships, he believes the process has been considerably slow to this point. Nonetheless, he remains optimistic that working with On3 will be able to propel him to the next level.

“They didn’t view me as a reporter even though I was breaking news, so especially in the earlier stages, I wasn’t getting credit for breaking the news just because I guess they didn’t view me as a reporter [or] traditional media outlet,” Tipton said. “But ever since joining On3, that’s kind of painted me in a new light, and people will look at me a little bit differently, especially with the coverage that I’m able to provide for On3 and then just the overall stories broken.”

There is an aspect of fluctuation that has become more embedded in college basketball, rendering it fundamental to verify information ahead of its circulation. For example, if a player informs Tipton that they are committing to a certain school, he will oftentimes call the coaches or athletics department to safeguard against complicating miscommunication between the two entities. In the end, he is never releasing graphics or reports without extreme confidence in its veracity.

“There’s definitely a competitive aspect of it, which I really enjoy actually because it just kind of keeps you on your toes,” Tipton said. “It’s kind of a rush as well to be able to get it out first, but the first year on the job with On3, there was an incredible amount of pressure that I put on myself to just achieve this at a high level, but there’s also a great deal of stress that comes with it because a lot of what I do is time sensitive.”

Although he has a stellar reporting record dating back to his days solely creating graphics, there are moments when other reporters or outlets beat him to the story. In these situations, the power of his brand and its identity assists in overcoming these impediments, indicative of his broad appeal and widespread reach. Establishing himself as a brand rather than being a graphic designer or reporter within a larger entity has been a key differentiator within his formative years in the business.

“I think it’s the key to sustainability and a way to separate yourself from other people, so I’m incredibly fortunate that the players believe in me, trust in me and then On3 does the same because I’m a source for the player that they can come to and trust, and we all grow together,” Tipton said. “I help grow the player, [and] I help grow On3. On3 helps grow me [and] the player helps grow me because they’re all posting my stuff, we’re posting them, so we’re all on this together, so it’s really nice.”

Tipton never envisioned himself appearing in front of the camera, but he is now doing so regularly for On3. As part of its content, he frequently discusses the latest news regarding recruitment, the transfer portal and NIL in addition to synthesizing player rankings.

“[I am] obviously only just scratching the surface of the on-camera stuff, but I think that is a strong potential avenue for me moving forward in my career,” Tipton said, “but then also my ability to break news at a high level and also the relationships that I have just when it comes to the recruiting insider portion of my job as well.”

Later this month, Tipton will see some of the players for whom he has created graphics soon enter the NBA when the NBA Draft takes place from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Although he has not assimilated into reporting on the NBA, he is competitive and has thought about his future work. Yet he understands that a majority of his verve is in college basketball and is focused on breaking news beyond recruiting.

“The good thing about me and kind of how I was brought up was I wasn’t raised in a family that was a fan of a specific team; in fact, my parents aren’t even sports fans at all,” Tipton said. “Sports was just not on at all growing up, so I never grew up a specific fan or a diehard of any specific program.”

Reflecting back on his journey thus far, Tipton feels that he stumbled into his career with fortuitous timing. The versatility he has developed, along with his persistence, networking and inexorable work ethic, has contributed to the growth of Tipton Edits and his role with On3.

Tipton found a way to cut through the media ecosystem, investing his time and effort into a niche that did not exist with the level of cache and emphasis that it currently possesses. The industry moves with unrelenting momentum and can seem imposing to shrewdly understand and cover, but Tipton aims to masterfully keep up while enjoying his journey to an unknown destination.

“We live in a world where, especially younger people, they’re keen on growing their social media presence,” Tipton said, “so On3, Tipton Edits and others alike are able to grow their channels, so they’re encouraged to utilize services like mine to help kind of propel their following and for it to reach a large number of people.”

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