Sellout Crowd Transforms the Sports Media Market
Updated: Oct 16
Fresh from her trip to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, I spoke to Sellout Crowd’s Jenni Carlson about her 25 years covering Oklahoma sports, interrupting the sports media market and Bob Stoops.
In a 25-year career spent covering Oklahoma sports, last week's Texas-Oklahoma classic was right up there for Jenni Carlson. “Red River (the OU-Texas rivalry) produces more great games than people think,” she says. “There was an unexpectedness about this year’s game for OU fans. The scene was set: people eating corn dogs and turkey legs at the State Fair in Texas before 9am. All the wackiness and the pageantry on show; people packing in the fair and the Cotton Bowl. You peer down at the dividing line on the fifty yard line in the stadium and see Texas burnt orange on one side, Oklahoma crimson on the other. And then, just a whale of a ball game.”
With both teams leaving the Big 12 conference for SEC in 2024, the game was a reminder of what two of college football's blue bloods, despite an indifferent last few years, can bring to the SEC, still college football’s most vaunted conference. Indeed, on this form, we can expect Oklahoma and Texas to meet again in the Big 12 conference decider in December, with a College Football Playoff berth on the line. The game was beautifully poised going into the final 90 seconds. After holding Texas to a field goal that saw the Longhorns go three points up, Oklahoma marched down the field with a commanding Dillon Gabriel drive for the game winning touchdown to clinch it 34-30.
“Gabriel has vastly improved as a runner this year,” declares Carlson. “I thought he’d bump up against his ceiling but he’s gone beyond that. He’s so much more confident with his throws. You can see how having star recruit Jackson Arnold as his backup has driven him. Overall, there’s been some interesting evolutions with this offense. Drake Stoops, son of Bob Stoops, told me last week that the offense has had more time to gel this off-season, which has helped Dillon Gabriel even more.”
Perhaps more surprisingly, Oklahoma’s defense - more known for its porousness in recent times - came good with the game on the line. Carlson agrees, adding: “The word I use with the defense is clutch. They gave up 500+ yards to Texas, but when they needed to make plays they did, especially late in the game. OU sacked Quinn Ewers (Texas quarterback) on a first and ten that Sark (Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian) said changed their thinking. After the sack they had to get into field goal range. That’s a small moment that is lost in the grand scheme of things which affected their overall decision making. They’re not a finished product by any means but this was a big step in the right direction for OU’s defense.”
From newspapers to Sellout Crowd Jenni Carlson has spent over 25 years in the Oklahoma sports market, writing for The Oklahoman. Along with fellow columnist Berry Tramel and a collection of the state's best writing talent, she joined Sellout Crowd in the summer to transform how stories are told in Oklahoma, covering sports teams' from Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team to OU and Oklahoma State football.
“Sellout Crowd is the brainchild of Mike Koehler, who I used to work with at The Oklahoman,” Carlson says. “He left newspapers for marketing. He always had a dream to get back into sports media as an interrupter. Mike adopted that influencer model into sports media instead of asking readers and listeners to subscribe. Berry Tramel and I joined him. We’re doing things differently with an Oklahoman newspaper flair to it, including videos and podcasts. We’ve shed the newspaper delivery model.”
Country music star and Oklahoma fan Toby Keith is purported to be one of the investors in Sellout Crowd. I asked Carlson if she thinks the model can be replicated in other US sports markets.
“Potentially. This represents a chance to do something different in the sports media space. The cost of putting together a newspaper is astronomical. It won’t work in every market. I can see Kansas City and Dallas having a good set up. We knew we had the audience. You might not have a passionate fan base in every market but it could be a model that expands into other markets.”
A feature of launching Sellout Crowd for Carlson is working with Bob Stoops, the Sooners head coach from 1999-2016. Stoops, who I profiled last year, is in the college football Hall of Fame and one of Oklahoma’s all time best coaches. Since retiring, OU fans have seen him turn up on the Big Noon Game crew on Fox, launch his own tequila label and coach an XFL team.
“As OU head coach, Bob was pretty locked in and no nonsense when it came to dealing with the media,” says Carlson. “It's been interesting to watch him as a retired head coach. He’s much more relaxed. Not to say that he did not enjoy himself as a head coach. I think he definitely did or he wouldn't have done it for 18 years. He has a different demeanor about him now that he doesn’t have the stress of that job hanging over his head. He really enjoyed the X&Os and dealing with the players. I think some of the areas of the game such as player discipline that you have to deal with just became a lot for him.”
Since Stoops stepped away, college football has seen a raft of other issues come in from NIL to the transfer portal, leading to increasing demands on head coaches.
“He probably looks at it and says ‘boy I got out at the right time.’ Anytime coaching jobs come up, his name is always linked, but for those of us who have seen him in retirement, I don’t think there’s any chance he coaches college football again. He stepped in an interim role when Lincoln Riley left OU for USC. That would be the only grounds I could see him coming back. A major part of his enjoyment has been getting to watch his son Drake play.”
Since stepping down as OU head coach, Carlson admits it's been cool to see Stoops at close quarters as a colleague at Sellout Crowd, featuring his live interviews and podcasts. Oklahoma reveres its historically great coaches from Bud Wilkinson to Barry Switzer, and now Stoops. When they return to campus at Norman, Oklahoma, they’re feted like royalty.
“Barry Switzer still lives in Norman and he commands rooms and attention,” Carlson adds. “He’s just turned 86. It will be fascinating to see as Barry recedes back into the shadows if Bob steps in. I don’t think he’s in the same stratosphere as Barry but it is going to be fun to watch Bob become the elder statesmen character of OU head coach as the years go on.”
And with that Jenni Carlson bounds off to pick up the copy of The Oklahoman on her front lawn. Transforming the sports media scene but also keen to stay tuned to how her former employer is covering sports.