When SLAM Magazine was purchased by independent investor JDS Sports last year, a wealth of opportunities opened up for the media company, including what the staff now refers to as “SLAM 2.0.”
The rebrand includes more high school hoops coverage than ever and features fresh video content, from quick highlights to mixtapes to full series. SLAM’s YouTube channel now puts heavy emphasis on high school highlights, and they even have specialized Twitter and Instagram accounts dedicated to providing fans with a place to get their high school basketball fix.
Although the increased coverage may be new, Editor-in-Chief/Head of Content Adam Figman pointed out that SLAM has always been ahead of the game when it comes to teenage hoopers.
“We’ve been creating high school content for many years,” he said. “Since the early to mid-90s, we were the first publication covering high school basketball in the way that we were, through the lens of SLAM.”
SLAM isn’t relying on grainy, amateur footage, either. They have boots on the ground at top high schools, AAU tournaments, camps and USA Basketball events around the nation.
“We have a network of shooters across the country documenting the top high school kids games, in basically every gym that matters,” Figman said.
SLAM has been spearheading high school events of its own, as well. This year, the outlet put on the SLAM Summer Classic, Volume 1, in partnership with Facebook Watch, BODYARMOR and Spalding.
The event featured six top-10 seniors, five top-10 juniors and three top-10 sophomores from across the country, including James Wiseman, Jalen Green, Cassius Stanley, Precious Achiuwa, Jalen Lecque, RJ Hampton, Sharife Cooper, Zion Harmon, Kyree Walker and Josh Christopher.
“It was amazing,” Figman said. “I think for the younger audience, 11-to-18-year-old kids, the top high school prospects are, in a way, the coolest kids in the country. Being around them for the Summer Classic, we got to see that up close.”
The game and its highlights generated over 14 million impressions across social media, according to Peter Robert Casey, CEO of JDS Sports.
As evidenced by the Summer Classic, top high school players have a certain allure that appeals to basketball fans, particularly considering the intersection of sports, style, music and culture that is embraced by the players.
“We really bonded with the kids and got to know them and see why everyone thinks they’re so cool, from what they wear, to the music they listen to, to how they act, and on the court,” Figman said. “People will ask me which kids will be next superstars, so there’s an element of tuning in to see who’s going to blow up on the NBA level one day, but my answer is that a lot of these kids are stars now, and it doesn’t really matter what happens in future. They already have massive social followings.”
Figman is right — top players ranging from middle schoolers to recent high school grads have burst onto the social scene as of late. For example, Mikey Williams — one of the top-ranked eighth-graders in the nation — has nearly 200,000 Instagram followers. Many of these teenage players can’t even drive, yet they already have their own fan pages.
At the forefront of these players’ fan bases is the Gen Z, social media-focused generation, according to Figman.
“Generally speaking, the high school basketball audience is younger than the typical NBA fan,” he said. “Younger people are engaging more, liking, commenting, sharing things with their friends more than someone older, the 20-something, 30-something fan. For us, that’s obviously appealing.”
SLAM capitalizes on the buzz and appeals to the younger generation by producing short-form content for Instagram, which is the most popular social platform for teens behind Snapchat.
“If a kid is highly-ranked, people want to see those highlights to know why,” Figman said. “There are ways to watch full high school games, but often, kids aren’t watching those – they just want highlights. The best way to do that is on Instagram and learn, ‘This is why this kid is hyped.’”
When it comes to SLAM’s best-performing content, Figman said it’s a mix between big names and flashy players.
“Bronny [James] does really well, Zaire [Wade] does well, and it’s a combination of bigger names in the space and kids whose games translate to social media, like last season with Zion Williamson,” Figman explained.
With 1.7 million Instagram followers, Williamson became a full-blown celebrity in recent years, thanks to his highlight-reel dunks — the exact type of play that Figman said drives engagement on social media.
For further proof that big names do numbers on social, SLAM recently posted a video of LeBron James’s younger son, Bryce Maximus, which netted over 1.25 million views in the first three days.
Although the highlight packages cultivate huge numbers, SLAM wants to be known for pushing the boundaries even more.
“As far as beyond just highlights, we do profile stuff, and we’re building multiple series in the high school space,” Figman said. “There’s pretty exciting non-highlight content coming up.”
And despite SLAM’s success in the high school realm, Figman emphasized the versatility of the brand.
“The high school stuff is certainly important to us, but it’s also one important piece of a bigger puzzle,” he said, mentioning SLAM’s emphasis on the NBA, as well as its sneakers and League Fits coverage. “We’re going from A to Z on this stuff – it’s the full gamut.”
That holistic coverage is paying off for SLAM. In the last three months, SLAM has owned four of the 10 best performing sports-lifestyle brands on Instagram — @SLAM_HS, @SLAM_Online, @LeagueFits, and @SLAMKicks. On average, SLAM’s social channels are driving over 100 million minutes of watch time and 500 million impressions per month.
All of that success on social can be traced back to what has made SLAM thrive for so many years, even before the arrival of “SLAM 2.0” — the celebration of the game of basketball.
“It’s raw and authentic, especially with SLAM being most authentic media brand in the basketball space — it’s true basketball,” Figman said.