20 Years of TexAgs.com
Texas A&M football is big business.
The biggest, according to a 2018 Forbes magazine list of college football’s most valuable teams. The Texas A&M football program ranks first among colleges in revenue generated nearly topping the $150 million dollar mark.
Yet, Brandon Jones, president and CEO of TexAgs.com, an independent fan website and ever-expanding Aggie-themed sports media empire, saw no future in his fledging venture some 20 years ago.
“I tried to get rid of (the TexAgs domain) for a year and a half,” Jones told Chadd Scott of GridironNow.com. With no takers, Jones approached Billy Liucci, who launched the “Maroon and White” newsletter in 1998, one year before Jones took control of TexAgs from founder Peter Kuo.
“Is there something we can work out?” Jones says he asked Liucci then. “You have good content. We have a good audience.” Both men were A&M graduates in their mid-20s at the time.
According to Jones, TexAgs.com had three to four million page views during the 1999 football season. Compare that to more than 50 million page views a month today.
The Jones-Liucci marriage made sense to both men, but it would be nearly ten years before they officially tied the knot. At the outset, TexAgs posted Liucci’s content on its site and the two men scraped by with little revenue generated in the process. Then, a decision was made to offer a “premium forum” for the service, enabling subscribers to sound off about Aggie football via a series of message boards.
Today, premium subscriptions start with a “Basic” package at $4.75 per month.The site’s “most popular” subscription, called “Premium” goes for $12.99 a month and includes recruiting updates, video content, a live radio stream, film features and access to the Premium Forums, which range in topics from all Aggie sports to discussions about entertainment, food and spirits, religion and philosophy, and life in “Aggieland,” the College Station, Bryan and Brazos Valley region.
Recent forum threads about the local area include discussions regarding cable TV signal issues, where to find a quality deer feeder, and “odd lights in the sky.”
“Techno-ag” reported that while driving in “from the north, there (were) several double lights floating in the sky. Not moving fast enough for planes. Anybody know?”
“Scruffy” replied: “The flash of light you saw in the sky was not a UFO. Swamp gas from a weather balloon was trapped in a thermal pocket and reflected the light from Venus.”
Another contributor suggested a touch-and-go training exercise at College Station’s Easterwood Airport could create a “floating-light” effect when flying directly toward an observer’s point of view.
Riveting content to be sure, but it’s entertaining and mostly “kind-spirited,” and it keeps the doors open at TexAgs facilities which today employ more than two dozen individuals and are located near the intersection of George Bush Drive and Wellborn Road in College Station, within easy walking–distance of Kyle Field.
TexAgs celebrated its 20th anniversary in July 2018. The occasion paid tribute to Peter Kuo’s initial registration of the “www.texags.com” domain. Kuo is no longer involved with the enterprise he founded.
In a “Premium” video interview on TexAgs.com, which aired live on TexAgs daily local radio show and streamed as live video content on the site, Jones talked about the turning point in his venture.
“The switch to me felt like it occurred in about 2008 when we made a bigger commitment to what we were doing on our content side. Before that, it was pretty much just Billy and me, and I didn’t produce any content.”
Jones says the first big step was adding Gabe Bock, a recent A&M graduate at the time and someone with both television and radio broadcast experience. Bock now serves as director of broadcasting and hosts the daily TexAgs radio show on KZNE, The Zone. Bock was a second strong content producer and, according to Jones, that increased subscription revenues which Jones poured back into the business, adding more staff who produced even more content.
Just in time for the arrival of “Johnny Football.”
Texas A&M’s move to the Southeastern Conference in 2012, coupled with quarterback Johnny Manziel winning that season’s Heisman Trophy, is unquestionably the biggest sports story in College Station over the last 30 years, and arguably the biggest ever.
“With Johnny, we were able to leverage that because of the organization that we had built,” Jones said. “I think to outsiders, (our coverage) was really impressive. It was something that was really unique in this business, that only a couple of sites like ours were capable of doing, having the resources in place to do what we did.”
While Texas A&M’s alumni network consistently ranks within the top ten among American colleges and universities, there may be no more rabid football fan base than the one which supports the Aggies.
At the end of the day–or middle of the night, or first thing in the morning–TexAgs.com’s premium message boards are the keystone to the company’s operations.
“It’s the corner pub that people go to at the end of work–or, you know, a lot of times during work,” Jones told ESPN.com staff writer Alex Scarborough.
“There’s probably people there you don’t like, but that’s okay because you know you’re at the table with people you do like. It’s this place where people go to blow off steam to escape the rigors of everyday life. They’re there to socialize and to talk about topics from politics to sports, to laugh sometimes and be crass.”
While all that goes on online, the A&M football juggernaut continues to role with the Aggie program the steam-engine which pulls everything and everyone down the track. According to Forbes, A&M’s football program generated an average of $148 million per year from 2015 through 2017.
That now tops the once invincible University of Texas program, and while the two schools are no longer rivals on the football field, they vie for the same recruits and in the arms race that college football recruiting has become, money matters a great deal.
A&M’s affiliation with the Southeastern Conference produces a $41 million revenue stream through shared distribution to league schools. Ticket sales account for more than $40 million in revenue each year. But, where A&M truly excels is in private and alumni contributions to the athletic department.
Over the last three years, contributions have averaged some $260 million, more than twice that of any other university.
The fervor and excitement generated at TexAgs.com figures to be at least a small reason Aggie alums dig so deeply into their pockets.
“Going back to when we started in ’99,” Jones says, “I never dreamed we would be where we are today. I always hoped we would be successful, but wasn’t sure how we would actually do that.
“It takes a lot of work and a lot of dedication, but you still have to come to work every day and think, ‘We can do better than this.’”