There are sports fans, and then there are sports fans. Henry Witt and his crew at SuperCentex.com are super sports fans. It isn't often that you get to do a deep-dive with someone who has been developing community for 11 years, so grab some coffee, pull up a chair, and be sure to take notes. Henry is one of the pros, and his community is fantastic.
His two key takeaway pieces of advice:
- Listen to your community members
- Keep it fresh
First, please tell us (brag a bit) about your members. How big is your community, and when was it founded?
I’ll give you the history of SuperCentex.com, and I’ll try to make it as brief as I can. In Texas, high school football is king, and I have always been a fan. About 15 years ago, when I was in high school I came up with the idea of a web site where Central Texas high school football fans could gather to talk about the local high teams they loved. I talked to my best friend Dustin Hicks about it, and he quickly jumped onboard as my business partner. Together we built the site CentexFootball.com. Local media picked up the story of the web site developed by two high school kids, and it shot off like a rocket. When we first started we had very little money, so we were using a free bulletin board. It was barebones to say the least, with almost no way to moderate anything at all. Needless to say, it would get out of hand sometimes when fans from rival schools would clash. So we needed a new solution mainly for that reason.
In 2001, we chose to go with an Ultimate Bulletin Board, which was a scaled down predecessor of Eve. At some point Eve was introduced and we upgraded. The Eve community grew to be our most popular feature and we amassed over 15,000 members.
In 2002, we started covering local high school football with photos and stories, as a web media outlet.
We continued that way until 2008, when a game between two of the more followed teams from the area was on the radio, and we linked to the radio station’s web stream. We called more radio stations and carried their web streams as well. After a few of weeks of linking to radio station streams, Dustin and I looked at each other and said, “Why can’t we do this?” And that’s when we started independently streaming local high school football games.
In 2009, we started streaming baseball and softball too, so we were growing out of just football. We decided to launch a new site called SuperCentex.com, to cover all the sports in our region. Eventually, we retired CentexFootball.com.
In 2010, we partnered with the local ESPN radio station and started streaming their broadcasting 24/7. They are the flagship station to Baylor University sports. Last football season, we streamed 3 high school football teams all season, and simulcast one of those teams on an actual radio station, 94.5 FM in Waco, Texas. We also ran a popular weekly radio/web stream show called “The Zone” that we plan to run next year as well.
In 2011, we were one of the first to jump on the Hoop.la bandwagon, and we have been thoroughly impressed with its functionality, ease of operation, moderation tools, and above all its customizability. Without Hoop.la, our transition from a niche sports site, to a broadcasting company would’ve been nearly impossible.
What made you take the leap to Hoop.la?
With everything that we’ve had going on over the past few years, considering the growth of both our company and online community, we had to have an easier way of updating the web site itself. Hoop.la provides a way for the site to be constantly updated with new content every time a new topic is posted. It posts the new topics right to the front of the site as if it’s a news story. This has also cut down on irrelevant topics, which was a problem with Eve. Less irrelevant topics also adds to the site’s credibility.
Now we have members of our Hoop.la who are local media celebrities from news stations and papers. They get their sports stories from our site, from our members. That’s a long way from where we started, and we have Hoop.la to thank for a lot of it.
Do you have any advice for other Eve Community owners who are considering a transition to Hoop.la?
Do it. Of course you should always let the opinions of your members drive decisions made regarding your online community, but you can’t let those members who are afraid of change inhibit the growth of your community. And as a community administrator, you should welcome warranted change. Expect that there will be members who don’t want to change, but understand there are a lot more of your members who would love to see their favorite community get away from a 10 year old Eve platform and upgrade to a fresher, newer interface. Of course Hoop.la is different from Eve, but it’s different in all the right ways.
How have you leveraged chat on your site?
At first chat did not go over so well, until it was introduced as an open chat. Now we can embed open chats into the media players of our broadcasts, so listeners can chat about the game while they’re listening to it. In turn, the Hoop.la chats have made our broadcasts more user friendly and more interactive than they have ever been. Our members really like being able to chat with other listeners.
Are a lot of your members using the iPhone app?
Absolutely. Prior to Hoop.la we looked into a lot of different app developers, and none of them were very cost effective. It was a project that we really wanted to undertake, but because of the cost and our workload, it kept going to the backburner. Hoop.la was a perfect solution. We provided a couple of images, a description, a price point of $1.99, and a couple of weeks later it was done.
We sold 112 apps in the month of December, and overall more than 500 in a little less than a year. We have integrated our broadcasts into our app. iPhone users can download our app and listen to our broadcasts on the go. The app has helped usher our site into a new generation of mobility. It’s fresh, it’s new, and it’s popular. The app is also the most inexpensive and reliable way to listen to Baylor sports broadcasts on the go, which is a major driver of the its popularity.
How do you reach out to sponsors/advertisers? If you’re willing to share, are you making a profit on your site? (no worries if you’d rather keep that to yourself)
Profit was always the last thing on our list of most important things to get out of the web site. Before we got into broadcasting, we made very little money and most years lost money. But we love doing it, and that’s what it has been about for us. Now that we are broadcasting, we have a small sales team that sells banner ads for the Hoop.la site and commercials for the streams. We are now making a consistent profit, albeit a small one. Most of our profit goes right back into the site to better our product. We certainly aren’t getting rich off of it and we all have day jobs. I am a sales rep for Dell Computers and Dustin is a sporting goods salesman.
Our main objective has always been to provide a place where Central Texas sports fans can come and talk and follow their teams. We have a small staff that is actually made up of our community members. Because we handpicked our staff from our member base, their passion for Central Texas sports comes out in every project. In fact, our programming director Ricky “Remo” Williams started as a member of the web site who stepped up when we started broadcasting. He is now the host of all our sports shows and does play by play for every sport we broadcast. And because he is so passionate about it, he does an unbelievable job. As a result he has become a very popular figure amongst the Central Texas sports community. He is the epitome of our continuous drive to make SuperCentex a site “for the fans, by the fans.”
You might have the most “pimped out” Hoop.la out there. What was your process for customizing the header and widgets? Do you have access to a professional designer?
Actually, I am the designer of everything you see on SuperCentex.com and our Hoop.la community. I don’t know that I would call myself a professional designer, since I don’t have any formal training. I taught myself HTML coding when I was in high school. Most of what I design is still simple HTML coding of Photoshop images. I use Photoshop for all of my designs religiously. Again, I’ve had no formal training with Photoshop, but Dustin took a Photoshop class at some point in college and has thrown me a few pointers here and there. And even though I wouldn’t say I am a professional designer, I would say that I am a very meticulous one. I’ll think of an image or ad and I comb over every part of it to make sure it looks exactly like what I’ve pictured in my head. I appreciate the compliment because I have literally spent countless hours on the design.
How have your stats changed (up or down) since the move?
At present, we are getting way more visitors than ever before. We credit a lot of that to the ease of navigation provided by Hoop.la and the gaining popularity of our broadcasts. On Friday nights during the football season we had as many as 500 members surfing the boards at a time, and over 5000 listeners to some of our later playoff games.
Every community has traditions and war stories...do you have any interesting experiences to share?
We have several of those. Remember that these are avid sports fans and a lot of them aren’t happy. We are talking about the type of fan that will put a ‘For Sale’ sign in a coach’s yard for losing a big game. Well, that was the old incognito way to show your disgust. Now Central Texas sports fans log on to our site (Hoop.la) to voice their opinions. So Dustin and I have received many a late night phone call from coaches asking that we delete rants directed at their play calling and such. Those are always real fun times.
For the aspiring community manager out there, what’s your one piece of advice after your years in the trenches?
Same advice I gave earlier, listen to your community members because they are the people that make your community run, but don’t let them become the people that run your community. If there is a method by which you can make your community newer, fresher, and livelier, do it. Don’t be afraid of change just because it’s the way you’ve always done it, and don’t let members who are afraid of change stop you from changing your community for the better. That’s the best piece of advice that I can give. We have lived by it, and it’s working very well for us. Hoop.la works. Don’t be afraid of it… embrace it as a tool to take your entire web site to the next level.