At the time of its founding in 2012, HBCU Gameday was in a world of its own. Few publications were specializing in promoting and documenting the stories of athletes from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. What started out as Steven Gaither’s way to amplify underrepresented voices has turned into a Black sports empire.
Gaither, HBCU Gameday’s founder, describes the platform as a digital media outlet for everything related to HBCU sports and culture. Since its initial debut, the platform has grown to 28,700 followers on Instagram and 42,800 followers on Twitter. The site attracts about a half million monthly unique visitors.
“We’ve built a community of HBCU supporters and folks who are interested in this for over the last decade before it was popular and before people began to come into the space,” Gaither said. “It’s exciting to be at the forefront of that. We’re working on continuing to be consistent, grow, evolve and break barriers in the news, journalism and entertainment world.”
Being a graduate of Winston-Salem State University’s mass communications program and a member of SJI’s 2008 class was instrumental in the development of HBCU Gameday for Gaither. During his days at WSSU, the university was working to move up to NCAA Division I from Division II. While documenting this attempted transition (which was not completed), Gaither was exposed to a number of HBCUs and his urge to cover them in every aspect began to burst.
“When I first started it was really a matter of harnessing the community that was there but hadn’t been harvested,” Gaither said. “When I was graduating, there were a lot of folks like me that were alumni of HBCUs and millennials that were alumni of HBCUs that love their schools and follow sports. Only Black newspapers were covering HBCUs, but it wasn’t fast and usually was only on a weekly basis.”
Gaither also explained that during the developmental stage of HBCU Gameday, even the larger HBCUs, such as North Carolina A&T State University and Texas Southern University, did not have a beat writer or reporter assigned to them at their local station or newspaper. The main ingredient for Gaither’s success recipe was to create social media interactions between people who genuinely love HBCU sports and his platform.
There was still one realm of entertainment that HBCU Gameday had not stepped foot in: television. But a conversation with AspireTV in 2018 would change all of this. After six years of YouTube success, HBCU Gameday proved that it could survive on a network.
The deal with AspireTV was negotiated between Gaither and one of his partners, Tolly Carr. Carr is the general manager and handles most of the financials and logistics of the company. AspireTV and HBCU Gameday audiences first collided for a weekly web show called “No Huddle.” The growing empire was also able to connect with Roku TV and Amazon Fire TV, making it one of the first HBCU portals of its time.
The team expanded in 2016 to include Wali Pitt, a cinematographer with extensive history in television production and documentaries. In 2021, the site added Carl Lut Williams, founder and publisher of the Black Colleges Sports Page, a Howard and Averett alum who has contributed to The Undefeated (now Andscape).
HBCU Gameday’s team also includes a list of contributors who are HBCU alumni, HBCU students and people with an overall passion for the advancement of Black sports,
“Realistically, writing for HBCU Gameday is what helped me become a part of the current class of Andscape’s Rhoden Fellows,” said Calvin Sykes, Florida A&M University sports management graduate student. “They gave me my first opportunity to write on a national stage. I was able to cover a lot of different topics that opened my mind up to HBCU culture. It made me realize I want to take a deeper dive into HBCU sports and make a career out of it.”
Gaither and HBCU Gameday has become one of the top sites chronicling Jackson State’s Hall of Fame football coach Deion Sanders – a magnet who has brought unprecedented media attention to the Black College landscape. In fact, Gaither, Williams or Pitt have ventured to Southwestern Athletic Conference territory at least a half dozen times in the past 15 months, mainly for Tigers games. The site also has a partnership with Jackson State’s “Thee Pregame Show.”
Gaither’s next goal for HBCU Gameday is to continue to expand its contributors and staff. Gaither expressed he wants to touch the next level of journalists, video producers and documentarians.
“I want to grow this brand into a legacy brand,” Gaither said. “I want this to be something that lasts after myself and lasts once me and my partners are gone. Hopefully, it is a long time before me and my partners are gone, but I want this to last through many generations and be a pillar into other endeavors.”