Flip the Switch Episode 39: David Brickley
SOPHIA: Today on Flip the Switch. We have on the show David Brickley, the CEO of STN digital. A sports and entertainment media marketing agency. David’s skill set lies in creating real-time content that helps sports teams connects with their fans.
We discuss his transition from FOX sports to running his company and the art of creating sharable content. From the World Cup to the I Heart Radio awards, STN digital has become the trusted social media agency in sports and entertainment.
Let’s get into it.
01:04 AUSTIN: Welcome to Flip the Switch presented by Power Digital Marketing. This is episode number 39. Joe Hollerup, how are we feeling?
01:12 JOE: I’m pretty excited about this interview. We’ve got David Brickley today from STN digital.
01:18 AUSTIN: That’s right. CEO and founder. David Brickley.
01:19 JOE: Yeah, and it’s nice to talk to someone who splits the atom between sports and sports-talk and also the digital side and the marketing and branding side. So essentially he was my ideal guest.
01:32 AUSTIN: This guy transitioned out of passions for sports and working with FOX sports and created an entire media marketing agency for sports and entertainment. So stick with us. You’re going to really like this interview.
With us today we have David Brickley, the CEO and founder of STN digital, a social media marketing agency here in San Diego. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
02:00 DAVID: Yeah, what’s up fellows? Thanks so much for having me.
02:02 AUSTIN: We are really excited. This is a man who’s… he has a lot of similar interests as us. Of course, the digital marketing space that we are in as professionals. But outside of that, the passion for sports, and sports media is truly where a lot of us spend a lot of our time and our energy. So it’s very exciting to see someone who’s combined both.
And you live that world too, and all that.
So before we get into your business, we’d love to hear about your background. How you came to be.
Of course, you started at state and transferred into sports. But please tell us a little bit about that.
02:30 DAVID: Yes. So started out as far as going to San Diego State. I think graduated in ’09. But originally the goal for me was to be in sports broadcasting. So wanted to be a sports anchor, have my own afternoon drive show.
So shortly after going to San Diego state moved out to LA. San Diego really doesn’t have a lot of opportunities for sports broadcasting. There’s like 3 jobs out here for that.
So I moved out to LA to get an opportunity. Started working at KFI AM-640, which is like the FOX News affiliate. As a producer. Then started working at FOX sports radio, the national feed for FOX sports. And was producer. Was creating content.
So that was kind of the original goal, and through a lot of different things that happened through that time, I ended up where I am today. And I can dive into that as well, but…
03:18 AUSTIN: Right so you were at FOX sports for a while. Production and would you say that’s where you started noticing that, “Hey, this social media thing could take off.” Was that happening yet?
03:27 DAVID: Yeah, so when I was in college I wrote for a website called “LakerNation.com” at the time. It’s not up anymore, but it was just a Laker fan blog. Talked about trade… all the stuff the Lakers can’t talk about… trade rumors, who they wanted to get. Maybe some of the drama between Kobe and all these different guys. So wrote for that. And kind of saw that hole from ’07 really saw that build up. They made a partnership with FOX Sports Radio, which is why I got the job at FOX sports.
But really saw this crazy rise from the blogging world to now Twitter’s coming out and Facebook’s a thing. This is even before Instagram and Snapchat was even out.
So then while I was working at FOX Sports Radio, I wanted my own show. I’m beating down the program director’s office. “Give me a show, give me a show, give me a show.” I’m hosting podcasts, I’m trying to be at my craft, and it wasn’t happening quick enough. So the thing was, “I’m going to start my own YouTube channel. And I’m going to host my show myself. I’m going to create my own destiny,” right?
So started the YouTube channel and actually started getting a lot of traction. And started working actually having a little bit of traction, I knew somebody that started working with Kobe. Pitched Kobe Bryant the idea called the “Kobe Minute.” Where I was going to do a minute video every week. And it was going to be about his off-the-court, on-the-court stuff. And if Kobe talks about how amazing he is in the charity world. Or what he’s doing outside the court, it sounds pompous, it sounds arrogant. But if you kind of have a news person talking about the world that is Kobe, it comes across a little bit better. So they really liked the idea. I shot it, I pitched it, we did it. And Kobe was literally approving my videos via text every week. And those videos were getting like, 200,000 views because he would post it on his Facebook and his Twitter.
That was the epiphany where I was like, “If I can do this for Kobe, I can create content for other athletes, other teams, other brands.” So that was like “Wait a second. I got something here.”
And that was what started STN Digital.
05:15 AUSTIN: And did that seem to catch fire with the other players? Did they start to say, “Hey, Kobe’s doing something. This might be a great way for us to get our brand out there.”
05:23 DAVID: Yeah, so I also did it for I think, Carmelo Anthony during the 2012 team USA. I forget… I think we tried to do it for Dwyane Wade as well. It was at that point where everybody had a Facebook and a Twitter. But there was not content. There wasn’t a plan.
And I think people were just trying to figure it out. And the fact that somebody could do content for free… and again, the business model for me was “Let me do it for free. I’m going to host it on my own YouTube channel. And I can get the Google AdSense on the back-end.”
So back then 200,000 views–you might make 600, 700 bucks. And for me as a struggling guy working at FOX Sports for 12 bucks, 15 bucks an hour to help pay the rent and stuff, that was a huge mind-shift for me. “Wait a second. I created something and it’s paying me money. And it’s a win-win for everybody involved.” So that was a big step.
06:07 AUSTIN: And that’s a really exciting time for Lakers. The second dynasty part of the decade was that back half of the 2000s where there was a lot happening with the team. And then, of course, we won a couple of titles, on our way out.
So really exciting time for you.
Transitioning out of FOX Sports and into the world you’re in now. When did you see that opening to go “Hey, maybe I should start my own agency. Maybe I should try to take a shot at being my own CEO.”
06:33 DAVID: I think starting that YouTube channel, creating content on a regular basis. Starting to see subscriber growth go up. Starting to see different partners maybe wanting to be involved from an advertising standpoint.
And that was kind of my first foray into business. Before than I really wasn’t thinking about running my own business, and having employees, or anything like that. But once that started to gain steam, and I understood that could be something that I could monetize it started to get my mind thinking in a different way. So as I saw YouTube blowing up and I’m like, “Nobody’s taking advantage of Twitter.”
All these sports teams at the time too. The reason why Laker Nation at the time was successful and I think why my YouTube channel was successful, nobody was talking about this stuff fans wanted to hear. They want to see if Kevin Garnett’s going to come to the Lakers. They want to see if the Lakers will ever trade Kobe, if there was a right fit type deal. And that was the stuff we talked about. And the fans really just ate it up, and got a really good community going.
So that was the key for me, is I looked at all these sports teams out there and said, “They’re not talking to their fan base. They’re not being genuine to the lexicon of what people are talking about. The water cooler. About the Lakers and what they should do. Should they bring LeBron and Paul George over? Should they not do LeBron because he’s going to ruin the team, and ruin the dynamic?
Those are the things that we tried to talk about and be genuine.
07:47 JOE: And just because you kind of were doing this on your own, outside of your 9-to-5, you didn’t have any of their red tape that a lot of the bigger networks like Fox Sports or Sports Center… They kind of refuse to talk about and even kind of transitioning now. The way sports media is today it’s more along those lines where a lot of people are kind of steering away from the suit and tie and the very formal stuff. And wanting to get…
08:08 DAVID: We talked about Barstool Sports, before we started…
08:12 JOE: Exactly. People are getting more drawn into because it’s like those conversations that we all have together. And then if we have someone on the national platform speaking about it, talking about it. I’m going to sit down and I’m going to listen to that every day versus the cue cards of Sports Center. Which… I won’t lie. I still watch Sports Center every single day, but like…
08:27 AUSTIN: And even Sports Center’s reinvented themselves to a degree. Their most famous anchor now is Scott Van Pelt who the show that they do is so different than it was even 5 years ago.
08:38 DAVID: Well, Vine ruined Sports Center. Vine was something that you could follow a couple feeds and see Russell Westberg dunk on somebody. You could see LeBron swat a ball into the stands and it… cause I was a guy that had ESPN news on constantly in high school, constantly in college, cause I wanted to be up to speed.
But once Vine came out, that was the shift. You had some guys… I think Vinnie Viner was one of the guys that he would post every single relevant highlight. Much like House of Highlights is doing now on Instagram. And if you followed that feed, and you scrolled a couple times a day, you were up to speed on everything. All the big moments. And you felt like you could talk about every dunk, every crossover… whatever it may be. So that was a shift and Sports Center had to shift because of it.
09:18 AUSTIN: In some sports they choose to allow their clips to be on social media. How does that work? Do you know how a league would choose? Say, “Hey, we can’t show the clips.” I think it’s not the major leagues, but I think the NFL doesn’t allow Twitter clips…
09:31 DAVID: Yeah, so the NFL has restrictions. MLB has major restrictions with Bam, which is their internal media rights agency. I think they’re doing a huge disservice.
09:41 AUSTIN: I do too.
09:42 DAVID: The fact that the MLB they have some charismatic guys that I think could be the LeBrons and the Westbrooks and the Hardens of their league, but nobody knows about them because they’ve refused to be a part of this whole thing.
Adam Silver and what the NBA has done is I think the… exactly what needs to be done in all sports. And that’s why it’s become global. Because somebody can start to see, “Who’s this Russell Westbrook guy? Oh my God. He attacks the rim with ferocity. He slams it really hard. I really like this guy.”
Then they start to say “I’m going to check out an OK Sig game.” So even Adam Silver… he had a really good article where he was interviewed. He’s all, “We’re going to throw all those snacks and our whole goal is it’ll hopefully lead to want to have some meals.” Which’d be the full 3 hour game. Or maybe coming down to the stadium and checking out the game.
So I think the NBA is what everybody should be doing. And what’s happening right now, I think it’s what’s right… And this is funny too. Even some Monday night football or Sunday night football… they don’t own their own rights. So although Al Michaels and Chris Collingsworth is being paid by NBC, they don’t have the digital rights. So that’s sold to Verizon or what have you. So even NBC can’t post their own highlights on NBC channels. It’s crazy. Because they’re trying to find a way in. And Bam is looking at like, “We’re not gonna let some random David Brinkley guy post a highlight. We want to monetize that.”
But in reality, you guys know, being in marketing–it’s the long-term game, rather than the micro-game. And they’re focusing way too much on “We need to monetize this,” rather than building the sport.
11:12 AUSTIN: The fans should have the longest lifetime value of any customer, right? Because it’s a passion inside the individual that drives them to use your product, and engage with your product in the first place. And so it should be pretty easy to utilize that. The NBA incredibly caught on to that, figured it out, and grown it globally.
The MLB, it’s confusing that they haven’t. Because they are international to a degree. Especially in the Asian market. And they just haven’t been able to create these characters as you’re saying.
So what does it take? What would someone do to take someone like a James Harden and a Russell Westbrook and blow them up? Make them this household name. What does that entail?
DAVID: Well, I think that the issue with the NFL is they wear helmets. And that’s a big deal. You don’t see a lot of their facial expressions. The only guys that really make it to the red carpets are the quarterbacks, like the Tom Bradys, because you see them on camera most of the time when you’re watching a game. And the close-ups and everything like that.
I think what the NBA’s been able to do–especially when you’re at a game–you can be courtside and literally feet away from a LeBron James. And they’ve allowed their players to talk. You see what’s happening right now with the anthem protest in the NFL. The NBA’s not having that problem, cause they nipped it in the bud immediately. And they let their players speak. LeBron, Chris Paul… I forgot everybody that went… Dwyane Wade I think was at the ESPYs and they had a big talk about police brutality. And the NBA allows their players to have a voice. And I think they respect the league office because of that. So they have a healthy conversation.
The other leagues–like the NFL–they want to control the message. They don’t want to have guaranteed contracts. They don’t want to really give back.
And like any organization, if you’re not listening to your employees, you’re not listening to the people that put the butts in the seats. I think it causes tension.
12:47 JOE: I mean, if you watch a post-game press conference of NBA players versus MLB or even NFL players. You could tell the NFL players are trained and scripted. They have all these responses. It was about the team. It was about this, it was about this.
But everybody in the NBA, they all have personalities. They have the whole thing when they’re walking up. Their style and all these things. They have individual styles or individual personalities in the grand scheme of things.
And you’re talking about the NBA year-round. Like, it never, ever stops. And so they do a really good job with that as well.
13:19 DAVID: And we work with Twitter and they’re huge on hashtag NBAtwitter. To your point it’s a year-long thing. The players are on Twitter. They’re talking with fans. They’re talking to each other on Twitter, which is funny as well.
So to your point, yeah, it’s a 24/7 thing and you can reach out and touch these athletes, where I don’t know necessarily if you can reach out and touch a stand from the Yankees type deal. Just doesn’t seem that same possibility.
13:45 JOE: Well, even kind of going back to you being at Fox Sportsnet, and then running your podcast and your YouTube channel. So Kobe was your first athlete that you were able to get ahold of and produce content for?
13:57 DAVID: Yes.
13:58 JOE: So you started out…
13:59 DAVID: And listen, I was a die-hard Kobe Bryant fan. I grew up an hour from LA. So that was amazing And my first ever interview was Kobe as well. So it’s just crazy and so I owe a lot to him. Time deal.
14:16 AUSTIN: What an intimidating moment. I mean, talk about one of the most ferocious individuals to ever walk the face of the earth. How was that interaction for you? Were you scared and nervous?
14:23 DAVID: Yeah. So it’s funny–when I was at KCR radio–we were talking about earlier at San Diego State, I’m just trying to beat my craft. I’m trying to get better at what I do. I had no connections. It’s ’07, ’08. So what I would do on my weekly radio show is I would hit my friends up, and they would be the baseball guru, or the NBA guru. So I’m talking to Ryan Folentes–one of my buddies–he’s gonna talk about the NBA. Now I interview him as if he was Stephen A Smith or Chris Broussard, right? That allowed me to get reps though. Even though it was kind of funny and kind of silly, cause they weren’t really experts. It got me reps, got me reps, got me reps.
I didn’t really like skateboarding, but there was this thing coming up called the Maloof Money Cup in Orange County. And we got a press release cause they don’t have any media coverage. And they hit us up, “Would you ever come out to our event?”
And I’m like, I don’t really want to, but this could be another opportunity for me to get better at my craft and get reps. So I can interview the skateboarders, and I can get more for my demo reel for a future job.
So I show up to this thing, and I hear this–this is ’09, this is when the Lakers won the championship versus the Orlando Magic. I hear this huge roar. I turn around and Kobe’s in the building. He came to watch the skateboarding competition. So that was the moment where it’s like, everything’s led up to this. I want to be in sports broadcasting. I’ve been watching this dude since he was a rookie. Every single game. This moment I have to do something.
So I had a camera guy, I’m like, “Let’s go do it.” So I walk up to him, I say, “Hey man, can I get a couple minutes for an interview.” he’s with his wife. He’s like, “Naa, man.”
And then just your heart sunk. And then he’s like, “I’m just kidding man. Let’s do it.”
And sat there for like 5 minutes and just went into it right? And that was when my friends were like, “Are you kidding me? You didn’t stutter? You didn’t freak out?” Kind of like you said.
And I didn’t because I just went into reporter mode, based on all that history of interviewing my friends, or interviewing a skateboarder. Interviewing a softball player at San Diego State. I just went into the moment which was cool to kind of see that come to fruition. So that was kind of awesome.
16:13 JOE: So you kind of were… you saw it early on at a time where the digital space wasn’t taking off just yet. We were still kind of on the cusp of that. And you capitalized on that opportunity, which kind of then started shifting your focus away from, “I could make this a full-time job. I don’t need this 9-to-5 and this network. I could start what became STN Digital. So could you kind of tell us about that transition and kind of where you started and where you wanted to take it?
16:38 DAVID: Yeah. So when we started, this was about a year after Bleacher Report got bought by Turner for 180 million dollars based on their blog network. They were creating a lot of blogs, like the Top 10 Kobe dunks of all time. Or the 5 place LeBron James may go in the off-season. That was the content that we were talking about. That fans wanted to read.
So they were very… they had volunteer writers for every single team across the nation, across the world. And they built this piece of collateral that was valuable. So Turner buys them.
So the idea at that point was… the only way these teams were making money was to monetize on their website. So everything had to be pushed to their website. So the original business model was, “We’re going to create these Bleacher Report type blogs for your website. We can put together a contributor network. We can hire writers.” All these different things.
So we’d talked to the Houston Rockets, we talked to all these different teams. And the market punched back immediately, like, “Aah, we’re good. But do you guys do social graphics or like, infographics?”
We’re like, “Sure!” So me and my business partners at the time were literally in Photoshop creating infographics in the early stages. Kind of grinding it. Whatever the client said they needed, we would figure out. So originally it was blogs, it went to social graphics, and obviously since then, it’s blossomed to a year later it was onsite activations at awards show. Now we’re doing influencer campaigns and branding entire digital feeds. And running marketing campaigns for the World Cup. And Olympics. And some crazy things. So it started off just with like, “Let’s make some blogs and help you guys out on the website.”
But now social is such a monetizable thing that obviously the dot-com isn’t where they make their money any more.
18:15 AUSTIN: Yeah. Incredible growth in just a couple years. 2013, right, was when you first started.
18:20 DAVID: Yes. We just had our 5 year anniversary. But it’s been…
18:23 AUSTIN: Congratulations.
18:24 DAVID: Yeah. It’s great. It keeps it fun.
But it’s also frustrating, right? You… much like Power Digital… you have to constantly reinvent yourself. There’s new platforms coming up all the time. Right when you thought you’ve got that revenue stream going, Vine goes away. Or Instagram comes out with stories. Or Snapchat starts to take a dive.
And you constantly have to kind of figure out… But if you’re willing to roll your sleeves up and stay kind of ahead of class, you become very valuable because you can be that partner that they trust and know they’re going to keep you ahead of the game.
18:49 AUSTIN: And how do you manage and grow these partnerships with these big teams and leagues? What does that entail and how do you approach them saying, “I wanna do this for you. I wanna do that?” Is it a long-term contract? Is it a one-time project?
19:00 DAVID: It’s mostly project based at this time. I think sports teams… we’ll have season-long retainers and things like that. But especially with projects what we’re finding, a lot of these larger… even like a Fox… they won’t even know their budget for something until 2 or 3 months out. So they can’t just say, “Hey, we’re gonna give you this guaranteed X amount of money.”
So I’ve seen in the sports/entertainment space… I know brands are still kind of on the retainer model. Maybe 1, 2, 3 year deals.
In the sports and entertainment space, the word retainer is a bad word. They don’t like giving it to me. And I think it’s because our market and agencies as a whole… they haven’t held their end of the bargain up, I think. What makes us different in my opinion is we essentially say what we’re going to do and do it really well, and provide world-class customer service.
And there’s a lot of agencies out there that just BS. And say they’re going do all these amazing things. Make all this happen. And they never do. So I think that’s kind of ruined the retainer word. Cause you get this retainer and then everybody just kind of relaxes. The brand or whatever is not happy with the results.
20:00 AUSTIN: That is the unfortunate part about being in digital marketing. We run into that a lot here. Same thing. Where we get clients that have been burned really bad.
I run into that a lot in SEO. Specifically. Because it’s very easy to sell the idea to someone and say, “I’m going to allow you to show up on Google for free. Just that quick retainer, and then you’re going to get all this traffic.”
And people get burned in our space because it is still so new.
20:22 DAVID: And you have Black Hat SEO and you have all these things that are really screwed up.
20:25 AUSTIN: Sure. The similarity’s there with sports. But I imagine these brands also are looking to you for what to do. I can’t imagine that they know how they want to interact with their fans and shape that.
So from an experience standpoint, do you apply a lot of what you use with other teams to those teams? Or how does that work?
20:41 DAVID: Yeah, I think we have a unique advantage in that we’re able to be in so many spaces–whether it be the SAAG awards, the Olympics, to the Green Bay Packers. It’s a lot of different fan bases, and you’re able to see what works and kind of AB test a lot of different things.
So I think our advantage with working with us is we’re able to take all that knowledge and see what’s working and what’s trending across the entire space. And then hopefully apply that to your brand. So we’ve really stepped that game up in the last year or so. I will not do a content package or do anything unless there’s strategy and consulting involved.
Because I want partnerships. I don’t want to be the executor, I don’t want to just be the guy, “Hey, can you make us this? Or make us that?” Unless we have partnerships where we’re constantly kind beating the brand up and seeing what we can do in evolving and shifting, it’s not impactful for me personally, but also my employees I think. Seeing that happen… seeing that growth is so rewarding, that I don’t just want to be the graphic dudes, or the video guy.
21:35 AUSTIN: There’s a big difference between being a vendor and strategic partner which Power Digital has taken that along too. It’s Grayson’s and Rob’s big vision with the company, of course, is to be this strategic partner. Which we do with a lot of companies.
It is much different, and much more valuable than being a vendor to these companies. It just makes your brand more authoritative, right? When you’re expected to be this strategic…
21:55 DAVID: Yeah. One thing is, if we were doing like I mentioned… there’s some clients that if we were pitching or still doing what we offered them the first time we worked with them, we’d be out of business. We’d never work with them. So the fact that we’ve evolved…
They believe the core thing, which is the most reliable, trusted agency in the space. Which is STN Digital in my opinion. And so once you work with us, it doesn’t necessarily matter what package or how you engaged us. They believe that core value, which is kind of like our “Why.” And once you have that and you’re respected and trusted and they know you do a great job. Whatever you offer them, they’re all ears. Because they trust you and they know it’s going to be done high class type deals.
That’s been good.
22:32 JOE: So you kind of originally started out with more of the journalism side and now it’s kind of shifted to more of like a brand building and engagement and production on social media and those types of things.
Would you say that through that process you’ve had to learn a lot on that side, where you were so journalism focused and now you’ve kind of opened up your array of skills?
22:57 DAVID: Oh yeah. I mean, I was telling Grayson about this earlier, but there’s so much trial and error in the first couple of years. Our onboarding process for new employees was throw them in a corner and ask your co-workers if you have any questions. And looking back at that, just like, what a dumb move that was. So now we have mandatory 2 day onboarding. And you have to shadow other people in different departments for a week.
And that stuff just makes sense when you say it out loud. But when you don’t know, you don’t know. So we did a lot of trial and error with the employees and clients and contracts. And all those different things. But I think, when you’re building a business, as long as you’re willing to be self-aware and evolve, you’ll be okay. But looking back at it, it was almost frustrating how much was “Let’s try this. That didn’t work. Let’s try this.”
And that’s kind of entrepreneur in itself. But yeah man, it wasn’t something I knew the blueprint going into it. Just kind of figure it out.
23:47 AUSTIN: And has there been those moments where you’re like, “Whoa. I don’t know if this is going to work.” did you ever felt like that adversity was too much? Or have you always just felt like, “This is just a hiccup. We’re going to keep rolling.”
24:00 DAVID: Yeah, I’ve always… I think you can be… it’s glass half-full or glass half-empty mentality. I’ve always found a way to be glass half-full. I will say there’s moments where I’m like, “Why me, man? Why did this happen? Why right now? Why couldn’t this have been a month ago?”
And there may be a dark day or two in those moments, but every single time… even being in frivolous lawsuit early in the company. In that moment, you’re like, “You gotta be kidding me. Why now? We’re trying to build this great thing.”
And you look back at it, and it’s a blessing. Now from day 1 all our contracts are super-great. All of our insurance is up and ready to roll so we can never be in that vulnerable position again. So every time I’ve been through any adversity and the company’s been through any adversity, it’s really built a stronger, better… I know it sounds cliché but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger type deal.
That’s totally been the case with STN.
24:55 AUSTIN: Right. And I’m sure the underlying passion really helps too. As a sports fan, you can kind of…
24:59 DAVID: Yeah. I mean, I tell my employees all the time, unless you are passionate and geek out about this industry, this industry will chew you out and spit you out immediately. I know in digital marketing… but especially with us. The Super bowl’s on Sunday. LeBron versus the Warriors. I say LeBron versus the Warriors. The Cavaliers versus the Warriors.
But they play at 6 o’clock at night to 9. So if you’re working with those teams, or you’re working with those networks, guess what? When all your boys or all your girlfriends are out having a drink on Friday. Or the big Super bowl party where everybody’s having fun, you’re working.
So unless you geek out over it, like, “Oh my God. I’m working the Super bowl. This is so awesome. I get paid to freakin’ watch the Super bowl?”
Unless you have that mentality, you’ll get burned out quickly.
25:40 AUSTIN: That’s exciting. Talk us through that process a little bit. If I’m the Cleveland Cavaliers and I hired STN Digital and the finals game just ended, what does that look like for your employees and you to either create content for them or post…
25:53 JOE: Yeah, I was going to say, the sweep just ended. And…
25:58 AUSTIN: Yeah. Just about. Let’s just say it’s Friday night. The sweep just ended. What does the Cavs do for content? What do they look to you for for content and production?
26:07 DAVID: Yeah, I think the one thing the sports teams make a huge mistake on is just again, going back to what we said, is being genuine with the audience. We’re Laker fans. We know damn well the Lakers weren’t going to win the championship this year. So don’t have this brand message, “The Fight for 17.” For 17 world championships.
No. We’re not going to win.
So I think some of the best social media accounts in sports, specifically you look at the Sacramento Kings, the Atlanta Hawks have done an incredible job. The Portland Trailblazers for years have done a great job as well. These are teams that haven’t won championships. Sacramento Kings don’t make the playoffs.
But they’re known in our space as being very, I guess, genuine with their audience. But too, control the things you can control. The digital marketing department at the Cavaliers cannot control if the Cavaliers are going to win the championship or get swept.
So what are the different moments inside this season or this off-season that you can control? And go all in on that. And literally going down to what are we doing for our schedule release? What are we doing for Halloween? Or milestones? Or what are we doing for when we get people signed up for free agency this year?
So all those things can be controlled. And it’s like anything in life. Control the things you can control, and don’t freak out too much about the things you can’t control.
27:21 AUSTIN: And in those moments where they need to put out something because a big play happened, would they look for you for direction on how to create it? Would you guys actually produce that content and send it to them? What does that look like?
27:32 DAVID: Yeah, so we’ve actually… One of the first things we did was we saw a need in the space where… an NFL team day-to-day can kind of figure it out. They have a small staff. And Monday through Saturday they’re okay. On Sunday, is their huge tent-pole event, and they need all hands on deck. So we created a service where we can be essentially your right-hand man during the games, and have a full staff from our headquarters cutting highlights, cutting GIFs. Making memes. Updating templates. Creating high quality content.
So you’re capitalizing on those moments as you’re scoring, as you’re winning.
So a good example of that is the Carolina Panthers. They went 15 and 1 and made the Super bowl a couple of years ago, and they went on such a historic run. I think the month going into the Super bowl they gained 500,000 followers on Twitter. Because every single moment that was worthy… that fans would want to see, they saw it. They got it. And they retweeted it.
And everything that a fan thought when Camden threw that game winning touchdown on the different handles we were speaking to that euphoria or to that fandom. So I think…
28:33 AUSTIN: That’s when the Dab got really popular too, hey? Which is… that was a big part of it.
28:37 DAVID: If you put Cam dabbing after the touchdown it would get 2, 3,000 retweets. And that stuff starts to add up right?
But those are the moments where if you do it right and you’re able to kind of be in the position to succeed, that’s when you can have those historic type seasons, both on the field, and then also on digital.
28:54 JOE: So if you were working with the Carolina Panthers and with Cam Newton, were you guys the ones responsible for his cryptic type that he does on his Instagram?
29:03 DAVID: No. We were not. We worked with the team during the 7 and 9 season prior to their 15 and 1 season. So it’s cool to see going from barely hanging on and making the playoffs in that weird 7 and 9 division–to being 15 and 1 and going all the way to the Super bowl. And seeing that team, it was a cool ride to see.
29:21 JOE: Well, it’s even to that point, whenever there’s a big moment in sports… there’s a championship, or someone clinches playoffs… whatever it is. The second it happens, if I go on Instagram. I go on Twitter. I see six different really cool well-done graphics with usually like LeBron or whoever it is. And it’s like that type of stuff that will always get that engagement. You know, once you put that out, people are going to see it. And people are going to love it. It’s right there in that moment.
29:48 DAVID: That’s the thing. That’s what I mean about controlling. A lot of stuff that we do is prepping… you should see our digital graveyard. The Seahawks won the Super bowl against the New England Patriots. The Panthers won the Super bowl against the Denver Broncos. We had all those graphics, all those videos. All those infographics cued up.
So when it happened we could capitalize. And if it doesn’t, it has to be on the cutting room floor. Seems morbid, but ESPN supposedly has a Death reel on every major guy. So if, God forbid, something happened to Michael Jordan, they would be able to go to their hard-drive and cue up the Michael Jordan highlight that is in case of his untimely death.
So that’s happened a lot in news and all that stuff. But being prepared for those moments is big.
And that’s… you know, Bleacher Report. They just got another hundred million dollars, so they’re able to really staff about that. But they prepared I think for like Kirk Cousins… They didn’t know where he was going to go this off-season. They made jersey swaps of every single team, including like the Patriots. Which doesn’t make sense, but just in case. We wanna be the first to market and get it. Like anything else, the preparation’s key.
30:50 AUSTIN: And those micro-moments have become so important in how these outlets react. Do you think ESPN is in trouble because of the Bleacher Reports, and the way that they are able to interact with the fans better? Do they need to adapt even further? Is the cable television side of it, is it going out? What are your thoughts on that?
31:05 DAVID: Yeah. So linear TV I think over the last 5 years ESPN’s gone from 100 million homes to 87 million homes. And when you get paid 6 dollars per subscriber, that’s a lot of money.
So they can’t just rest on their laurels, and like you said, have Sports Center and have people tuning in. Because we’re getting all this content by… House of Highlights has become our generations Sports Center. So they need to monetize in different ways. So they’re trying some things with ESPN Plus, and they’re trying some different things that I think ultimately… if they have the sports rights, they’ll always be okay.
I always go back to everybody thinks the world is falling. Content is always going to be the king, so regardless if it’s going to be on ESPN on your cable channel. Or it’s going to be on your mobile device on ESPN Plus, it’s just a different platform. It’s the same content. So as long as they continue to have sports rights, they’re going to be able to be fine. But they’re going to have to move quickly into what the audience wants.
31:57 JOE: I would say even on that note, they’ll always probably be the king and the queen and just… because even just now, they just got that big UFC deal. That’s took that from Fox. You know for the UFC they’re going to get way more people tuning in because they got ESPN now.
32:15 DAVID: Exactly. And a couple years ago, Vince McMahon with the WWE, he transitioned from pay-per-view all the way to the app and to the streaming. And everybody thought he was crazy. He was just early. He gets it.
So the problem with Fortune 500 companies, the problem with anybody that’s on the stock market… they always are thinking on a quarterly basis to appease their shareholders. but unless you’re looking at the marketplace 3 or 5 years out, you’re not going to be able to make changes now that put you in a good spot in the future.
32:42 AUSTIN: The way I feel about ESPN is how I feel about Disney and what they’re doing. And their big content play where they’re buying up potentially 21st Century Fox soon and having just a real monopoly of content truly. And that’s why I think ESPN will be fine. Cause I think they’ll probably integrate that more with their other content to keep it growing.
Or I don’t know… but that seems likely.
33:04 DAVID: There’s a reason we’re seeing all these conglomerates merging. You see AT&T and Time-Warner. You just mentioned Disney and Fox. And Netflix is a serious problem. 5 years ago their revenue was at 4 billion and now it’s at 11.6 billion. You guys know they’re spending 8 billion dollars on original content.
The reason why these different conglomerates are merging is cause they’re trying to make sure that they have all the right answers to kind of go head to head with these new platforms, like the OTTs.
33:38 AUSTIN: So let’s get back to your business a little bit. And I want to talk about KPIs for these teams for you. If a contract is going to be up soon… maybe the projects over. What is that they would look at to your agency to say, “Hey, we want to stay with STN Digital. They did X, Y, and Z.”
33:54 DAVID: Yeah, so we really provide those in-depth analytics after every large project or every… we’re talking about it on a weekly basis. It’s different. We’ve worked with Amazon on some of their original programming, and their main KPI is app downloads for Prime. Cause they want more people on that.
We’re working right now with an original series and their whole goal is YouTube subscribers. So everything that we do with influencers, and everything that we’re doing from a content standpoint is to drive people to subscribe so their able to keep people long-term.
Some people are just overall brand awareness. And getting more followers so they can continue to build upon that and monetize on that. That’s a huge thing. We haven’t talked about either is if you are these sports teams, if you’re an entertainment network, you’re now able to have digital inventory that you can go to sponsors with. And that’s going to be the new way, instead of making 50,000 dollars or 200,000 dollars on a commercial–a 30 second ad–you’re now making that on potentially a player of the week. Or you’re making it on anything like that.
So that’s important too. Is finding ways to create branded content that works. That’s genuine to the audience. That they can attach sponsorship too. That will still get engagement and not feel like it’s an advertisement
35:04 AUSTIN: And do these teams typically come to you? And do they have an understanding of what they want you to do? Or are they going, “Hey, we want to be more marketable. We want to be more interactive with our fans.” How would you take…? I guess my example I have is the Cleveland Browns and they’ve had a pretty difficult run where they’re kind of an embarrassment, and it’s hard to connect.
35:27 DAVID: That’s an understatement I think.
35:28 AUSTIN: Right, they’re…
35:29 JOE: The term I’ve heard is “Dumpster Fire.”
35:30 DAVID: That’s where quarterbacks go to die. That’s how I think of it.
35:31 AUSTIN: Oh yeah. The jersey is just so sad. It is. It’s a quarterback graveyard, truly.
What would you do in this situation if they come to you and go, “We need to change the narrative. We need to interact better with our fans and the NFL.” What would you do?
35:47 DAVID: Well, again, I think it really goes back to being genuine. Cleveland Browns fans know that it’s just been terrible. And if you’re in the marketing side, if you’re on the digital side, there’s nothing you can do to control what’s going on in the field or on the court. But, like I mentioned, there’s been an amazing amount of sports teams that have done a really good job of controlling the narrative when they’re able to do it.
So how can they focus on milestones? Birthdays? How can they focus on big events that are coming up? Schedule releases?
We’ve worked with teams that are habitually not good on the court or the field, and they really… “What are we doing for Halloween?” And it seems kind of crazy, but that’s a big moment where they can really… against their peers anyway… they can rise to the top and be known as someone that really was able to capitalize on that narrative.
And also, pop culture as well. Can you find a way to get into the trends and make sure you’re movin’ and groovin’.
There’s nothing you can do. If you’re 0 and 16, the fans are pissed, and it sucks. And you’re not going to get good engagement after games. I also think that you should lean into… if you are losing, let the fans talk about it. So post that losing graphic. Post that highlight of Baker Mayfield throwing that game-losing interception. And let the fans…
That’s some of the best engagement is people are so angry that they’re commenting and they’re retweeting and they’re showing their fans, “This is why I hate Cleveland. This is why I’m over this team.” And I think you should capitalize on that when you can.
37:10 JOE: It’s almost like there is an opportunity there. Even if it’s you have a really snarky persona on Twitter. Work through the Cleveland Browns’ account and you start roasting other teams or other people. That stuff catches on, and you can monetize that and become known for it in that case. And it’s more so this is a distraction from the fact that we just…
37:29 DAVID: And like I said, if he throws a game-losing interception, you put the final score graphic and say, “Well, that sucked.” And that’s literally how Browns feel in that moment and that’s why people respect it. They’re at least speaking our language.
I remember the Lakers, again, following them so closely, they won 20 games–I think when Kobe tore his Achilles or whatever. And they would lose by 28 but after the game, the Lakers 3 point percentage in the 3rd quarter was their highest 3 point percentage this season. Dude, come on. Why are you even sharing that? That’s again, being disingenuous I think and trying to find these nuggets that fans just roll their eyes over.
So I think, speak for the fan, as if the fan’s tweeting.
38:07 AUSTIN: I think one of the great things sports teams on Twitter is the troll aspect. I really think that that’s been great for brands, and maybe they take it a little bit too far. But is that something that they came up with on their own? Or was that, you think, instructed by an agency to start tweeting as the team at other teams trolling or making fun of them? That type of thing?
38:25 DAVID: It’s funny, the NBA actually put out a release that they can’t do that anymore. Team to team. It got to the point where I think a team went after a player, and the player went after the team. And they’re like, “We don’t want this bad PR.”
38:38 JOE: Could get out of hand real fast.
38:39 DAVID: Now they’re finding funner ways. Like it was really cool, the Atlanta Hawks–they were out of the post-season obviously. But if the Timberwolves won their last game this season, they were going to get a lottery pick. However it worked out with the trade. And the Hawks live Tweeted that Timberwolf game as if they were these Timberwolf fans. And it was really well done and very hilarious the way they were doing it. So every time that Jimmy Butler hit a jumper they would post a GIF like “Let’s go!” That type of stuff. It was brilliant. And that’s another way, again, that had nothing to do with the Hawks performance on the court. But they were able to find a way to dig into that.
39:15 AUSTIN: That actually turned out to be a really good game. I watched that one. Cause they won that to get into the playoffs. So that was a huge win. And Jimmy Butler, he closed that game down I believe.
So that’s really interesting.
I think we want to talk a little bit about your upcoming projects. I’m excited to hear about the World Cup you brought up. What does that look like? Are you providing content to FIFA or is it nations?
39:36 DAVID: Yeah, so we worked at Fox sport at a ton of projects throughout the years. Whether it be College Football playoff and this year it’s World Cup. Which is super-cool to be a part of that. Super-awesome for when that lays out.
But that’s more on the marketing side. To build awareness. And especially with the USA not being in the World Cup it really forced Fox Sports and us to think about ways that we can let people know. And why they should care. And what teams they should be looking at.
We kind of leaned into the premier players and also the fact that Mexico is in it. And there’s a lot of… especially on the West coast there’s sometime in there. Just trying to find a way to let people know it’s going down. It’s coming up. Here’s the teams that are involved. Here’s why you should care. And any marketing campaign–you guys know so well–how do you build that narrative of why people should really take time out of their day to care.
And that’s been really cool. So we’re excited for that.
The year’s been cool, man. We worked on the Olympics. We worked on the SAAG awards. I Heart Radio music awards. We worked on the Super bowl and now going into the World Cup. Here in our fifth year, it’s again… starting in the bedroom of my apartment and working with Southern Mississippi University as our first client. And kind of seeing this year of 2018 so far. It’s humbling and it’s awesome to see.
40:51 AUSTIN: And you guys go to do Mayweather McGregor? Am I right about that? I saw a little bit of content on your website.
40:55 DAVID: Yeah, so we work with Twitter a lot too. And they’re the brand, right? So they want to be involved in all these big moments. We mentioned NBA Twitter. We’re going to be at the NBA awards on behalf of Twitter as well. So they want to be a part of the culture. They want to be a part of where the players are at and the big moments are. So they often try to insert their brand through an activation. And that’s where they come to us, like, “Yo, it’s going to be in Vegas. It’s Mayweather-McGregor. A lot of celebrities are going to be there.”
And we literally start with a blank canvas. And then we try to find ways… what would a celebrity want to do? And what would a celebrity want to share? And that’s where I think your able to get that brand awareness and the ability to get that positive PR. We’ve had Lady Gaga share stuff, or we’ve had just these big names like Shaq organically share stuff. And we all know if you were going to pay Shaq to share something for you, it would be tens and tens of thousands of dollars. So to find a way to create content that he thinks is dope. That he’s telling me, “Yo, send me that. I want to post it.”
That’s the ultimate goal, because that’s how you get that brand reach.
41:55 AUSTIN: Yeah, I checked out the little video clip you guys had. It’s great. The flag, the nation draped around them and then they’re shadow boxing. I saw like Stephen A Smith and James Harden were shadow boxing. It was a really cool…
42:06 DAVID: And we gamified that right? So are you going for McGregor or Mayweather and we had the American flag and the Irish flag. And based on who they chose, we gave them the flag, obviously. But also in post-production we said Team Mayweather, Team McGregor. So it kind of started this little gamified debate on Twitter.
“Oh wait, Cardi B is Mayweather. But then Stephen A and James Harden are McGregor. That’s kind of weird. And it started this little bit of a debate. So any time–you guys know that you can gamify anything. It makes it more fun for sure.
42:35 JOE: Even on that topic I was going to say, of gamifying. A hot topic that we always discuss on here and probably in our every day, that will probably end up closing this out with and discussing was between MJ and LeBron, who do you got?
42:52 DAVID: Ugh. This debate just is so annoying. Just because it’s like I understand that people get ratings for it, but just every single segment on every single show to talk about this. It gets kind of annoying
I grew up on Michael Jordan. I think he’s the goat for sure. And then moving on to Kobe. What LeBron is doing is absolutely insane. And I was the Kobe apologist. I would always argue Kobe over LeBron. I think the fact that LeBron is going to be 3 and 6 in NBA finals–people talk about how bad his team his. He still has Kevin Love, he had Kyrie Irving. He had some of the best players on the planet. He had Chris Bosch and Dwyane Wade. And listen, what the Warriors are doing to with Stephan Curry, Clay, KD, that’s not fair. Well then, it wasn’t fair with Jordan, Pippin and Rodman. It wasn’t fair with McHale, Bird and Parish. These guys, they found a way to create those teams.
Worthy, Magic and Kareem. Those weren’t super-teams that came from different teams, they created it from the ground up. How about Westbrook, Harden and Durant? They found a way to keep that core together in OKC. So this is not different I think in terms of the super-team aspect of it.
But I’m an MJ guy. 6 and 0 in the finals versus 3 and 6? But what LeBron has done this season at his age, and that longevity and to do it to play 82 games in his 15th season. I think may be 2, man. He may be right up there. But I don’t give him the best of all time.
And, I know this is getting kind of really granular, but you guys saw game 2 game 3, he’s not guarding Durant. He’s walking up the court sometimes. He’s giving up on possessions. And that’s something that Jordan, Kobe, Isaiah, they never, ever, ever did that. They left every ounce of sweat on the floor.
That dings me for LeBron a little bit. I think he…
44:39 AUSTIN: He’s trying to do the thing where he’s saving his energy so they say so that he can play X amount of minutes. Because they all they got, I guess you could say. But at the same time, you’re right. Where is that total package of being the greatest of all time? It seems like it’s become a bit more strategic for him to stay on the floor. And be offensively minded. And cause he feels like no one else can contribute.
To a degree, he is correct. But also that single minded mentality only gets you so far, as we’ve seen. And I think the Heat championships are kind of inexcusable. The ones they didn’t win. You had the package there, you were supposedly the better team and if you just didn’t have that killer instinct to finish them off.
I’m a big Kobe guy, so I’m very biased. But I just want to put that out there.
45:20 JOE: We just love the fact that anyone you talk to… everybody hates that debate and hates that question. But no one can help…
45:28 DAVID: But I just talked about it for 5 minutes.
45:29 JOE: You have to give your 2 cents on it, no matter how many times I don’t want to talk about it.
45:34 AUSTIN: Absolutely. All right, so let’s get some closing remarks from you on just your vision for the company. STN Digital. Where do you guys want to go? Are you there? What’s the big game plan?
45:43 DAVID: Yeah, so I think having this discussion and kind of talking about vision–we are in an amazing place right now. I’m super-pumped because we are in what I call a media revolution. We talked about what ESPN is going through. Linear television is going through a revolution, the same way radio went to TV. TV is now going to OTT and mobile.
And we’ve been reprogramming… it’s crazy… the last couple of years I feel like. We can watch a 30 minute program on a 7 inch iPhone. I do this all the time. I’m on the couch. My 50 inch flat-screen is turned off. And I’m watching a 30 minute Netflix show on my phone. And it doesn’t feel weird.
5, 6 years ago, would have felt weird. Why the hell are you watching that on that little thing when you have that big thing in your living room?
So in all of us, being digital, even if an employee left my company, I would say, “Find a way to stay in this space.” Because it’s only just going to skyrocket. And we saw in 2017 Recode came out with a stat that digital advertising outspent linear advertising for the first time ever. And it’s by 2020, it’s going to probably double what linear is doing.
Once the Fortune 500 brands understand that all of us are on Facebook and Twitter and we’re opening up our apps all the time. All the money’s going to flood over to digital, and that’s when budgets are going to skyrocket, because they understand that’s where everybody is.
Same way a Super bowl commercial is 4 million, 5 million bucks, is because people are paying attention. We’re all paying attention in that same way on our mobile devices and on OTT and on social. So once they get that, they’re going to pour in those billions and billions of dollars into digital. And as long as you’re willing to evolve, like we’ve been doing. And you’re willing to adjust with the market and provide that value, I think there’s going to be a ton of opportunity, man. So we’re excited for sure.
47:26 AUSTIN: Very excited. It’s a great time to be in this space. What you’ve built is incredible…
47:29 DAVID: I appreciate that. Thank you.
47:30 AUSTIN: Both him and I are awe struck by how you’ve turned this passion into a business. Thank you so much for all your thoughts.
David Brickley, CEO of STN Digital. Check them out and look for all their content coming down the pipe for the World Cup.
A very exciting interview with David Brickley. Thank you so much to him for coming on. Joe and I are still awestruck from just the whole conversation, how interesting it is. He was really on the forefront of this social media movement for sports teams, for brands and entertainment. That’s a big side of this too, that we don’t realize, but Joe, what are your thoughts on all this
48:05 JOE: I mean, it doesn’t really feel like we just recorded a podcast or even essentially an interview with him. It kind of was just conversational. Obviously a topic that we like to discuss, but I would love to have him on again sometime soon down the road.
48:20 AUSTIN: My favorite shows that we do are when we get lost in the moment and have these conversations that you and I would. When you’re talking to a friend or maybe a mentor. Where you’re trying to pick someone’s brain, and really understand what they go through on a day-to-day basis. That’s where I learn the most. That’s where I connect with the interviewee the most.
So really exciting. And I’m excited for them as a whole, and where they’re going to go as a company. They’re really solidified themselves as this social media giant in the space of sports and everything they have to balance with the relationships. And then how they grow the audience, which is the sports fan for these teams is incredible.
So a lot to take in there, but exciting stuff.
All right. That’s going to wrap us up for today. Check us out. Join our forum. I don’t know if you guys have checked it out yet, but we do have a Facebook forum. It’s a private group. If you look it up it’s just Flip the Switch Forum. We’ll add you. You can join the conversation. We’re always posting articles.
We’re also on Twitter a bit. Check us out there. Instagram as well, so please engage with us. Let us know your thoughts on this episode. And as always this is going to be Joe Hollerup, Austin Mahaffy, Pat Kriedler and John Saunders signing off.