High school sports have become a big business, and one mid-Atlantic company is attempting to make it even bigger, while at the same time solving some of its problems. In 2001, Steve Sutherland, Jeff Gilbert and Matt Carson created BigTeams.com, based in Warrenton, Va. They had a dream of creating great sports-related websites for high schools in Virginia; Washington, D.C.; and Maryland.
Thus, BigTeams.com was born, and the company has built high school websites for more than 500 institutions, from northern Virginia all the way to Hawaii. It started small, and by the end of 2013, BigTeams.com was growing faster than expected.
To help reach its expansion goals, BigTeams.com hired Clay Walker as CEO. Walker was the vice president of publisher relations at USA Today sports, and before that, he was the chief affiliate officer/general manager and one of the co-founders of Big Lead Sports, a digital sports marketing and media company startup that USA Today acquired in January 2012.
PressBox spoke to Walker about BigTeams.com and the appeal of high school sports.
PRESSBOX: How does BigTeams.com work?
CLAY WALKER: Well, here is the short answer to your question. We use the power of social media networks, local television, radio, newspapers and websites to establish a school's brand. We add to those components some of the best fan input. We employ professional photographers and videographers, and then we combine these multimedia elements into a one-stop shop for fans. They get school announcements, schedules and top-quality content. The platform also helps high school athletics programs generate cash through features such as local online ad sales, photo sales, e-commerce sales, mobile app sales and more. This has been the way the business has been working since day one, with the school-first approach with high school sports websites. It is a formula that has made the company a success, and our clients in 41 states and the District of Columbia very happy.
PB: What attracted you to BigTeams.com?
CW: Over the years, I have had the pleasure of attending almost every big sporting event you can think of, from the Super Bowl to the Masters, and it has been fun. However, nothing really comes close to matching what it is like to watch a big-time high school football, basketball or lacrosse game in person. The passion, the community and the pureness of the sport is so much fun to watch. I think that we all love high school sports because we can relate to it, and it takes us back to some our best memories as kids growing up and either playing high school sports or watching them with our friends.
PB: What makes high school sports such great theater?
CW: In small towns from Maryland's Eastern Shore to California, high school sports bring out a community like nothing else can. A Friday night football game in a small town in Alabama, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Georgia -- to name a few states -- the town shuts down, and fans never miss a game. It is the biggest event in the area for a week, or if it is a rivalry game, it might be the biggest event of the entire school year. Locally, when my son's school, Landon, faces their rival, Georgetown Prep, they will draw over 5,000 fans, and each school only has a student body of around 1,000 kids. But the draw of those two powerhouse lacrosse teams attracts a huge crowd. So, no matter if it is football in the south, basketball in Kentucky and Indiana or lacrosse in our area, people outside of the student body care about high school sports, because it remains a community event.
PB: What is next for BigTeams.com?
CW: We are looking forward to a number of new things, all with involving as many students, parents and members of the community as possible. We want to help aspiring young journalists, getting them involved on the content side, both through written stories and video interviews. We want to turn loose the kids who want to be involved with ad sales to work with us and their schools to sell ads and help advance each school's brand. So, in short, to get as many students involved in our project as possible so they can learn and get some worthwhile precollege experience. Meanwhile, at the same time, the websites grow locally and become an established content site for the student body, the alumni and the community.