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‘The Goal Is To Create Gen Z’s ESPN’: Penn State Student Building Sports Social Media Business

On August 2, 2022, Penn State sophomore Justin Leusner created an Instagram account called @BasketballTodayOfficial with the simple goal of publishing fresh and fun basketball content for younger fans.

Leusner talked with his friends before its creation and asked them how they enjoyed consuming their NBA content. His friends enjoyed ESPN and famous sports personalities but felt they were “repetitive,” “boring,” and “not authentic.” Instead, Leusner’s basketball-loving friends enjoyed watching quick, fun, and informative videos on social media.

That conversation was all the validation Leusner needed to finally debut a project he had been planning his entire life.

“Alright, let’s put our content there [on social media],” he said. “Let’s do what ESPN does, but for Gen Z. And let’s make it authentic, fresh, and relatable. Let’s build a community with that.”

Leusner isn’t a stranger to creating content. In fact, he started posting videos on YouTube as young as 10 years old. He started uploading more consistently four years later when he would post daily videos of himself playing popular mobile games such as NBA Live and Madden Mobile.

“I was like the No. 1 NBA Live mobile creator for a hot two weeks,” he said. “But then that game kind of died in 2018-19, so my channel kind of stagnated with that.”

With NBA Live dying and Leusner feeling burnt out from posting daily videos for seven years in a row, he took a break from creating content and started making money by working for other brands, creators, and businesses, helping out with post-production edits on social media posts. During that short-lived time period, Leusner worked with companies such as Limitless, Philly Pretzel Company, and even popular gaming YouTuber MMG.

Slowly, the creation kick started to creep back in, and soon enough, Leusner was back in the game with “BasketballToday.”

He started with the mindset of posting three videos a day. He conducted all of his research by diving deep into social media apps such as Reddit, YouTube, and Instagram to see what was trending and what content the audience was gravitating toward. Eventually, Leusner hired his friend and a fellow Penn State student to help create content for the account.

“About two months in, I was like, ‘I need some help here if I want to create a sustainable and scalable brand’,” he said. “The goal is to create Gen Z’s ESPN, [and] I can’t do that by myself.”

@basketballtodayofficial

Replying to @jjarenlimm NBA Moments That Turned Into MEMES

♬ Blue Blood – Heinz Kiessling

Suddenly, Leusner’s various accounts across YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram began to blow up with the follower counts reaching the thousands and views soaring into the millions. The help only continued to grow the accounts, as he now had more time to boost the quality of the videos.

“When I did three videos a day, they were not edited,” he said. “It was just me using the TikTok editor tool…but now we really hone in like on captions [and] transitions, and a lot of our videos end up going viral now because we really are super attention to detail and maximizing retention.”

Being a corporate innovation and entrepreneurship major, Leusner had ongoing conversations with Happy Valley LaunchBox, and it advised him to hire more people for the company. After a slight hesitation, he obliged and has since added 30 people to the staff.

Some members of ‘BasketballToday Live’ with Justin Leusner

With the newfound growth, new opportunities began to sprout. Leusner branched into live content and started a second channel called “BasketballToday Live,” a club under Penn State Network Television. Leusner and the rest of the team put on four live shows throughout the week in hopes of building a basketball community.

“So, take a podcast, twitch stream vibe meets ESPN, but in a more authentic way,” Leusner explained.

As it currently stands, “BasketballToday” has over 150,000 followers, and its total view count surpasses 50,000,000 across its YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram accounts. However, the numbers don’t really impress Leusner, who just enjoys the engagement and basketball community he is building with the young audience.

Even with all his success, Leusner isn’t done yet. In August 2023, he plans on starting “FootballToday,” an offshoot account dedicated to, you guessed it, the NFL. He explained that the culture and broader audience of football and basketball fanbases make those two a priority. However, he is still open to the idea of creating an account for all sports.

“We just want to create engaging content that non-super fans can enjoy,” he said. “So, like [for example] with hockey and baseball, we would have to figure that out…but, we definitely want to expand it to as many sports as possible.”

Despite taking those two years off and not starting this company sooner, Leusner expressed he had no regrets throughout his whole journey. He offered advice to those looking to break into the social media world.

“You just gotta press publish,” Leusner said. “I see way too many people, including myself, struggle with this. And making it have to be perfect, and it has to be great, and everything has to be figured out. No…if you have the mindset of getting one percent better each day, 60 days later, you’ll have the good content that you were trying to get on day one…just be patient, you’ll get there.”

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About the Author

Tobey Prime

Tobey is a senior studying broadcast journalism from Lancaster, PA. He is a major Pittsburgh sports fan and Miami Heat fanatic. When Tobey isn't writing for Onward State, you can catch him looking at photos of his pugs. Send your best insults to [email protected] or sports takes to @tobey_prime on Twitter.

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