Horned Frog Fandom Expands Across the Digital Landscape
From Killerfrogs to Purple Menace, TCU sports fans create passionate online empires.
In the mid-1990s, ArkaFrog dialed up his noisy modem and waited for a connection to the Frog Fan Forum. There, the early Internet adopter and a few other Frog faithful engaged in fretful discussions about what would become of their beloved TCU teams after the Southwest Conference dissolved.
The online community “was the only thing to grab on to,” said ArkaFrog, aka football letterman Scott Nix ’82, who was marooned in Arkansas at the time.
Halfway through the 2015 football season, the entire Internet seems to buzz with talk about TCU athletics, and nowhere with more passion than on the Frog Fan Forum.
KillerFrogs.com now hosts the sleek and expanded forum, but Frog faithful can choose from a variety of TCU sports-centric fan sites, including FrogsOWar.com and PurpleMenace.com. The expansion reflects new ground for both the Internet and Horned Frog sports.
In 1997, Wes Phelan ’73 was part of a group that bought and moved the Frog Fan Forum to KillerFrogs.com and an inexpensive shared server. (The website’s name is a reference to former TCU basketball coach Jim Killingsworth.) “Our first month, we had 415,000 page views,” Phelan said. “I thought wow, we’ve hit the big time.”
In 2006, Nix bought KillerFrogs.com from fellow salesman Phelan but made him an operating partner. They acquired the assistance of Sean Foushee ’99, whose tech expertise came in handy as TCU’s ascent through college athletics caused an influx of web traffic from around the world. The related overage costs necessitated an eventual migration to a dedicated server.
“It’s like you’ve got this shopping mall out there with all these eyes going by all the time,” Nix said of the growing web presence of KillerFrogs, which now has a content-sharing partnership with USA Today.
KillerFrogs community discussions range from the X’s and O’s of TCU sports to kvetches about media opinions. Anonymous users, who constitute around 80 percent of the website’s traffic, can browse, but paid membership has privileges. For example, when TCU played Iowa State in the 2005 Houston Bowl, Nix purchased 200 seats on the 50-yard-line (for about $17,000) and re-sold them to paid members.
Besides the lively (and sometimes contentious) Frog Fan Forum, KillerFrogs offers original video content, including a weekly streaming show that has featured Frog greats LaDainian Tomlinson ’00 (football), Matt Carpenter ’09 (baseball) and volleyball head coach Jill Kramer ‘01. The site also organizes an annual “State of the Frogdom” fan luncheon, charity drives and bus trips to some out-of-town football games.
Last December, before TCU beat Ole Miss in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, KillerFrogs.com logged 4.5 million page views. Phelan expects 2015 traffic to exceed 30 million page visits.
“It’s kind of a new world out there,” Nix said. “It’s this really crazy social experiment.”
Jamie Plunkett ’09 is the managing editor of FrogsOWar.com, a multimedia and content-generating site affiliated with the Internet sports network SBNation. Three other fans started it as a personal blog in 2010.
“It’s fan perspective, incredibly biased perspective, which is fun to read and feed off of,” said Plunkett.
The Dallas-based minister took over the site in 2013 and boosted the free community through social media outreach. Plunkett and about a dozen staff members and volunteers write posts and live-tweet TCU football, baseball and men’s basketball games.
Last spring, FrogsOWar launched a podcast for fans to discuss their favorite teams. After TCU baseball’s improbable comeback against N.C. State in the Fort Worth Regional, Plunkett jumped onto an impromptu talk radio-style show where Frog fans dissected the dramatic win into the early hours of the morning.
Digital fandom can be fun, but Plunkett cautioned people to remember how public these discussions can be. In 2014, FrogsOWar published a partially incorrect report about TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin’s injured wrist. Several national media outlets used the inaccurate report, and gambling lines were pulled from Las Vegas boards as experts expected the quarterback to miss games, illustrating the influence of one person with a computer.
“New media is powerful stuff, and it should be treated as such,” Plunkett said.
Hardcore fans venture to subscription-based sites, such as tcu.247sports.com and PurpleMenace.com, which Billy Wessels ’10 runs, for insider program analysis and information on football recruiting. At PurpleMenace, subscribers pay $8.33 a month.
After earning a degree in journalism, Wessels worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Waxahachie Daily Light before taking over PurpleMenace. These days he travels to high school football games and camps to get the scoop on potential recruits for the next generation of Frog football.
Although running PurpleMenace isn’t a full-time job for Wessels, he appreciates the opportunity. “I get paid to watch my favorite team play football,” he said. “I get paid to talk to recruits who are future players, future NFL guys.”
Since TCU’s inclusion in the Big 12 Conference and unprecedented success in football, Wessels noticed a new trend: High school players consider the Horned Frogs the hot commodity. “TCU is the cool kid now.”