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Independent Content Creators Capture Essence of the Game

Most of these personalities got their start working independently and either continue to do so or are in partnership with larger brands amid growth.

Derek Futterman

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Digital Media 2023
Courtesy: Meta

As the world of media content creation and consumption pervades the digital sector, outlets are invariably evaluating the optimization of resources. Whether it is funding, personnel, or timing, a litany of factors within the greater ecosystem fall under constant scrutiny in an attempt to diminish aggregate opportunity cost. While many large media companies remain profitable, executives have the shrewd intellect and foresight to take heed of research divulging permutations in such trends. The metamorphosis of the business, expedited by the global pandemic and temporary cessation of sporting events, leans towards putting more control and oversight in the purview of the customer.

There is a greater demand for niche content and presentations, hence the creation of alternate viewing experiences concomitant with live game broadcasts. Moreover, various athletes and media professionals have created their own content factories, producing and promulgating original podcasts, series, and documentaries.

Central to all of this innovation, however, are social media outlets, labyrinthic confluences of ideas, experiences, and compositions. Recent studies estimate that 4.9 billion people are using these applications worldwide, with a daily average usage time at two hours and 25 minutes. In a culture predicated on productivity coupled with a widespread lack of free moments, people seem to find ways to interpolate these digital plazas into their quotidian routines.

Many social media users consider influencers and creators to be firmly embedded in today’s cultural zeitgeist. Most of these personalities got their start working independently and either continue to do so or are in partnership with larger brands amid growth. The occupation, some of whom consider it their full-time job, is very much a 24/7 endeavor with lucrative contracts and a marked transition to becoming a recognizable public figure.

“I was posting three to five videos a day on TikTok,” Lacey Jane Brown said, who has north of 700,000 followers across various social media platforms. “From there, I was also trying to go to sporting events. A lot of different out-of-pocket expenses, but kind of how I viewed it was, ‘Hey, this is going to pay in the long run. You have to make some expenses now.’”

Brown eventually signed with a management team who helped establish her brand and position her for continued growth. Over the course of the calendar year, she consistently travels to explore sporting venues and creates unique, short-form content based on news and rumors. With each new piece of content, Brown and many other personalities effectively have to give an “elevator pitch” and keep people interested. After all, the average human attention span is 8.25 seconds, and studies corroborate that people prefer visual content now more than ever.

Lacey Jane Brown
Courtesy Lacey Jane Brown

As she traverses the United States and beyond, Brown makes it a point to highlight distinctive parts of the stadium experience conducive for fans to enjoy the game. This year, she discovered a lazy river at Riders Field, the home of the Frisco RoughRiders, Double-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Additionally, Brown attended the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and made a TikTok video highlighting how T-Mobile Park, the home of the Seattle Mariners, is the only ballpark with a Starbucks inside.

“I think what I’m trying my hardest to do is really just show the fun side of baseball, show the fun amenities in the ballpark [and] show how unique ballparks really are,” Brown said. “….I’ll even ask people at the ballpark when I’m working with their social media team; I’ll [say], ‘Hey, what’s the one thing this ballpark has that no other ballpark has?’”

During the 2022 National Football League season, Brown broke a Guinness World Record by attending 32 NFL games – one home game per team – in 73 days. She documented her journey throughout the entire trip, which was to support her 12-year-old nephew who has been battling cancer throughout his entire life.

“That was my main drive behind this that many people didn’t know,” Brown said. “I think a lot of people just thought that it was just a more selfish thing for me to do because I didn’t really share the reason why I did this because I wanted to protect my nephew – I didn’t want hate comments and all this stuff.”


John Whitaker is no stranger to animosity, receiving a fair amount of objection to the lists he posts on his “Big Game Boomer” brand of social media accounts. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma, he began working in finance and accounting but always had a love for college sports. One day in late 2020, Whitaker found himself on Twitter debating Oklahoma and Michigan football with ESPN College GameDay analyst Desmond Howard. After the college football season concluded, he began making lists ranking players and aspects of the sport, and they quickly took off.

Initially beginning with 50 followers, the account rapidly grew and routinely has millions of impressions on every post. Almost 90,000 people follow the X page today, along with an additional 82,000 people on Instagram, resulting in the creation of a content calendar and finding ways to engage with the fans. These lists are derived from the synthesis of qualitative and quantitative metrics in addition to other types of research.

“I’m a guru with Microsoft Excel, so I’ve got just all these spreadsheets of data and players and coaches and recruiting,” Whitaker explained. “I would say that finance skill set has made me very savvy with just accumulating data and tracking it and putting it in a nice form to present it to the audience on social media.”

John Whitaker/Big Game Boomer
Courtesy Big Game Boomer

When Whitaker travels to college football games around the country, he posts photos and videos throughout the day, highlighting the unparalleled tradition and customs particular to each school. In addition to the lists, he is trying to build his podcast and aims to create a new episode on a daily basis, eyeing a commentator job in the future on any outlet. The lists have always been primary to his content strategy – and Whitaker shows no signs of slowing down – but he has been able to expand the scope of what he does as the page has matured.

“It gives people a name [and] a figure instead of just some guy posting lists on Twitter,” Whitaker said regarding his podcast. “I think it really helps build the ‘Big Game Boomer’ brand from instead of just posting lists to having other content where people can agree or disagree.”


Navigating through negativity is an immediate drawback of various social media platforms, consistently being exposed to disheartening comments and direct messages. There is a deluge of criticism on these outlets; however, there are plenty of people who genuinely enjoy the content and missions. Nonetheless, Brown tries to serve as a role model for other women in the space by encouraging them to remain persistent and offering her support.

“Whoever is sending hate; whoever is sending criticism, it shows more about who they are, and it’s usually the people that have private accounts that aren’t really active on social media,” Brown said. “It’s just all about ignoring it [while] taking in the good criticism – because there is good criticism out there – but I think as a female, you get a majority of the bad criticism.”

Emily Austin was direct messaging professional basketball players from the time she was young, trying to craft her journalism and hosting skills through one-on-one interviews. She would then post the interviews on social media and started reaching out to agents and managers for help to continue making inroads in the space. At the same time, Austin was also modeling for various brands, making it on a Times Square billboard and magazine covers at the age of 18. Combining modeling with her media endeavors, however, led to various agents and managers dissuading her from forging ahead.

“They were so nasty,” Austin conveyed. “‘Stick to modeling sweetheart; you’re going to get eaten alive out here,’ and just discouraging me from doing what I want to do. My broadcasting coach told me, ‘Stick to modeling,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m paying you to help me with broadcasting.’”

Emily Austin
Courtesy Emily Austin

With minimal assistance, Austin continued interviewing NBA players and built relationships around the industry. She remembers meeting ESPN basketball analyst Michael Wilbon at an event and having a conversation about her endeavors, and he became a mentor for her from whom to seek guidance. Over the last several years, Austin has hosted marquee events, traveled to the Super Bowl to work as a freelancer with SiriusXM, and served as a judge for the Miss Universe beauty pageant.

At the same time, she acquired her own skincare line, People’s Beauty, and revamped her NBA interview show as The Hoop Chat, upping its production and structure. Using her business acumen, Austin surmises that monetizing the show can take place either by collaborating with a network or by incorporating sponsorships or other advertising. Austin has over 1.2 million Instagram followers and another half-million on TikTok, and she is working to further broaden her engagement with her future goals in mind.

“I think it’s important to master multiple things, and I know it’s going to take a lot of time,” Austin said. “I don’t really have much of a social life at all which is something I’m okay with because career-wise, I do have options. Just being versatile means you have options and it’s really, really good to have options.”


Versatility and adaptability have proven to be essential characteristics of employees working in sports media, especially due to widespread industry layoffs throughout the year. The Walt Disney Company cut 7,000 jobs to slash $5.5 billion in operating costs following its strategic restructuring, highlighted by numerous ESPN staffers both on camera and behind the scenes losing their jobs. On top of that, The New York Times revealed plans to eliminate its sports section, instead relying on The Athletic vertical, which the newspaper purchased in early 2022, to produce effective local content. One month earlier, The Athletic cut 4% of its newsroom, concerning many professionals in sports journalism and beyond.

Additional cuts are taking place in all sectors of the industry, combined with the ongoing strikes in Hollywood amid concerns pertaining to residual pay, working conditions, and artificial intelligence. Average job security in media is arguably more ephemeral than ever before, encouraging young professionals to branch out on their own and take an entrepreneurial path. Aliyah Funschelle has collaborated with regional sports networks and teams to create and produce engaging content but operates with a sense of autonomy because of the creative freedom it allows.

“I think working independently, my values come across so much easier because I cover the things I want and I don’t have to worry about getting a ton of approval to talk about things,” Funschelle said. “I’m pretty outspoken when it comes to different issues or different oppressed groups of people.”

Funschelle, like Brown, grew up in Kansas and quickly made a name for herself in the smaller locale. She attended her dream school, Columbia University, and ended up moving to New York City, a place where she found mentors and opportunities to expand her skill set. Through college, she continued to amass a sizable social media following. In her youth, Funschelle would always watch linear sports networks and read newspapers and magazines, but consistent with shifts in technology, she is cognizant that additional entertaining content is elsewhere.

Aliyah Funschelle
Courtesy Aliyah Funschelle

“I’ve kind of had to adjust my content because I personally love sitting down with someone for 30 minutes and recording a whole interview and posting that, but I realize that people consume it differently,” Funschelle said. “That’s when I would have to chop it up into more bite-size pieces. It’s evolved like crazy though.”

Funschelle can frequently be seen in the “Big Apple” attending and covering sporting events, including New York Knicks and Liberty basketball games, the Army-Navy football game, and other basketball tournaments. She has been reposted by LeBron James, played pickleball with Eli Manning, and reported on the sidelines for ESPN+, taking steps to become an even more versatile media personality. If there is a big event in New York, it is likely you will run into Funschelle at some point living out her dream – and through it all, she wants to inspire women to pursue careers in sports media.

“I think it’s super important that women go where they’re celebrated, not just where they’re tolerated, and [that they] can really be set up for success,” Funschelle said. “I think that’s a big thing because a lot of people think about women in sports [as] just dealing with internet trolls, but really it’s making room for them at the table and where it really matters, which is in jobs and different opportunities.”


From independent content creators to linear and digital content from sports media outlets, consumers have a plethora of content and potent sovereignty. In a comprehensive snapshot of the space, a wide array of appealing programming is geared toward different factions of sports fans. It accentuates the importance of localized content, more of which is being created and shared by creators. Additionally, there are so many people trying to discover a paradigmatic means to operate that has rendered originality and authenticity essential traits.

“I think Pat McAfee was a big inspiration for me,” said Brown, who eventually wants to build her own program. “…His show does so well because it is unfiltered; it is authentic; there is nothing about reading a script. Yeah, you may cover specific points, but you’re not reading word-for-word. It’s very [non-]traditional media, which I really like and enjoy.”

“I just feel like because it is so saturated nowadays that the most important thing people want is just you,” Gabi Fuller, a Miami-based influencer, added. “I always say that I feel like sometimes my videos are so boring if I’m just vlogging a day where I’m not doing anything, and then I always get reminded whether it’s in comments or from people I meet – and they’re like, ‘We just want to see you.’”

Fuller is a former competitive cheerleader who was a member of the Top Gun All Stars in Miami, Fla. through which she gained a social media following. Over the ensuing years, she has found ways to expand the scope of her content to include other areas of lifestyle. Through her burgeoning popularity and high levels of engagement, Fuller has been able to promote the sport and other topics she has a passion to share with others.

She has over 300,000 followers on Instagram and an additional 172,000 on TikTok, but these two platforms only encompass part of her content strategy. Fuller prioritizes filming and editing YouTube videos, all of which she does herself, to take people into her life and allow them to get to know her as a person.

“My videos are way longer than they used to be before, and I kind of want it to be more of just like a comfort show to put on in the background,” Fuller said. “It doesn’t need to be full-blown entertaining every second of the video.”

Gabi Fuller
Courtesy Gabi Fuller

In serving as her own production team, Fuller knows she can quickly discern things and envision a distinct final product. She can also interweave sponsorships throughout her content and set her own schedule to ensure she can maintain her responsibilities as a cheerleading instructor. Throughout the course of the week, fulfilling her tasks and continuing to grow as a professional is at the top of Fuller’s mindset. Since she is doing what she loves, maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be a difficult task.

“Whenever I’m home and done for the day – as much as I can – I just try not to even be around my phone just so I’m not tempted or get distracted and even go into work mode,” Fuller said. “The line is definitely blurred with this job because you do sometimes feel like they’ll be days where I feel like I work from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep for sure.”

While she does not consume much sports media content on her own, Fuller appreciates programming that can give people different perspectives of athletes. She referenced the aforementioned Netflix docuseries, Quarterback, in discussing deeper storytelling and her future goals. Because she is split between the athletic and content creation spaces and blends both with one another, defining her occupation is somewhat of a challenge.

“[Cheerleading] literally probably takes up 50% of my life, where the other 50% is more the lifestyle; the influencing; more of the social media business work,” Fuller said. “I truly feel like both labels kind of explain exactly who I am because that’s just how my life is truly divided and split up.”


Fuller studied mechanical engineering while she attended Florida International University, an experience through which she balanced her studies with cheerleading and content creation. While she rose in the ranks at this time, Dylan Sadiq took a different journey after his biomedical engineering classes were put on hold due to a global pandemic. After growing frustrated with not being able to learn in a laboratory, he worked to find ways to further his education. Sadiq graduated in the top echelons of his class, and he used his analytical sagacity to find a new hobby that has since turned into a job.

“Images are just made up of pixels, and pixels are just colored squares,” Sadiq said. “In theory, if you have enough pixels – very detailed images have tens of thousands of pixels – you can make a crystal clear image; however, a Rubik’s Cube is literally nine colored squares on one side. In theory, if I had enough colored squares or pixels, or even in this case if I had enough Rubik’s cubes, I’d be able to make an image.”

With no background in content creation, Sadiq set up a camera as he took 10 hours to craft a mural of Dallas Mavericks superstar guard Luka Dončić and then posted his video to TikTok as “The College Cuber.” The post gained traction and was noticed by the Mavericks organization, who then asked his permission to share it across their social media platforms. Almost like a domino effect, other teams began reaching out to Sadiq to create images, and he was suddenly taking requests. The more he practiced, the faster he was completing the mosaics – and chances to perform his work live began to surface.

Dylan Sadiq
Courtesy Rutgers University

“If it wasn’t for social media, especially TikTok, I would just be some kid playing with cubes in his basement honestly,” Sadiq said. “Social [media] is not only a great way to share what you’re creating with your fans, but at the same time, it’s definitely your marketing as a business.”

Sadiq does not view himself as a bonafide content creator, instead utilizing his art as a vehicle to drive success – which he conveys is a duality between recognition and compensation. Much of his business remains independent, but he does have some employees who assist him with different aspects of the operation amid an effort to expand the scope of his work.

In the future, he does not want to solely rely on the multicolored cubes to craft these pieces, holding an innate desire to broaden his artistic horizons. No matter what he ends up doing though, the central focus of his social media usage comes down to publishing his work and presenting other aspects of his lifestyle.

“Whether it’s the everyday person or the diehard sports fan, I’m trying to educate people [on] what’s going on in sports,” Sadiq said. “I do research and I try to really just put that out there and use my art as a secondary visual for that, but at the end of the day, I feel like I’m really just trying to share my journey as a person and as an artist.”


The dynamic nature of sports media within the vacillating content ecosystem has been preferential towards individuals and personalities. Building rapport with consumers is essential to establishing oneself as a brand, rendering engagement with fans tantamount to distributing content.

“I look at them as real people and people I could be friends with,” Funschelle said of her followers, “and it does show because I actually meet so many people from the internet in real life and become friends with them.”

“A Virginia Tech fan may hate me one day because I said, ‘Blacksburg isn’t that great of a college town,’ but he may love me the next day when I say that Virginia Tech’s stadium entrance – when the players come in the stadium – is the best in the country,” Whitaker added. “It’s a love-hate relationship.”

The tenacity to create opportunities and a resolute commitment to innovating and refining the craft are shared characteristics between these six flourishing creators. All of them, along with many others, are leveraging the power of digital media and revamping the way sports media and lifestyle content is being created and subsequently disseminated. Traditional media outlets have their own digital media divisions, and while it may be easier to obtain access to events or collaborate with celebrities, independent creators continue to immerse themselves in the domain. They are here to stay and are making an impact that goes far beyond the final score.

“I forget sometimes when I’m uploading [videos] and I just post it that there’s real people sitting down watching this and taking something from it,” Fuller said. “All I kind of see is the numbers or a name on the screen, and getting to feel that more, whether it’s in person or just a long message from someone – it is the most rewarding thing ever [in] this job.”

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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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