The pings of the basketball and squeaks of shoes sliding on hardwood echoed throughout the massive rafters of the arena.
Players mumbled to each other in layup lines while coaches made last-minute preparations on the bench. The PA system pounded hip-hop music into seats layered with cardboard cutouts of fans.
The broadcasting staff were the only other humans in a building that normally housed 40,000. Masked and isolated in hotel rooms for weeks, they committed to bringing games to millions of fans quarantined in their homes.
One of those brave staff members was Parker Ruttan, a camera operator who studied television production. He was five years into his dream career covering sporting events nationwide when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. For months, Ruttan worked jobs at sporting events without a single fan in attendance.
“My colleague Chris Densmore told me I grew a rose out of a slit in the concrete. The concrete was Covid, and somehow I was able to water that little crack in the concrete and grow a rose out of it,” Ruttan says.
That rose was an Instagram account, now called Behind the Broadcast, that has grown from zero to approximately 231,000 followers in less than three years.
He started the account as a project to show the behind-the-scenes of what was happening during Covid-19, and it’s now the largest Instagram account dedicated to the broadcasting profession. But the account came from a desire to be more than just a viral hit.
Sports With No Fans
The original name of Ruttan’s account was Sports with No Fans. The title captured every athlete, coach, and sports fanatic’s emotion during the pandemic: What were sports without fans?
To get fans closer to the game, Ruttan thought showcasing his world as a broadcast professional would resonate. Slowly, the account gained traction from five to 25 to 50 followers.
Since he had extended time living in hotel rooms, he decided to invest in learning how to grow his side project. He discovered Foundr’s Instagram Domination course and started implementing the strategies to his account.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Foundr is the reason why my page had success because I wouldn’t ever have thought of some of the methods that I ended up using without some guidance that Foundr laid out for me.”
Foundr is the reason why my page had success.
But once Ruttan got the account up and running, fans started trickling back to stadiums and arenas.
“I was like, ‘Oh no, my whole idea, everything’s kind of been blown up because there’s fans in the arena,’” Ruttan says.
So he contacted friends, family, and his limited followers about brainstorming a new name for the account. Ruttan says he had a long list of ideas, including Stadium and Sunsets, where the account would share videos of sunsets over stadiums. But he kept going back to why he started the account in the first place—showcasing what it takes to make a live event happen.
“It was real stuff that, at the time, people had really never seen. And still, to this day, it’s the movie magic [makes finger quotes],” Ruttan says. “There’s a lot to it that people don’t understand or don’t even know how things are broadcasted.”
Finally, Ruttan committed to the name Behind the Broadcast in June 2021. “It was a much catchier name,” Ruttan says. “And it intrigued people that much more.”
His following stayed around 2,500 followers until his first viral video—which happened on Christmas Day.
Keep the Ball Rolling
While assisting a center court handheld camera operator, Shane Marshall, during an NBA basketball game for ESPN, Ruttan began filming Marshall’s work so he could study it and improve his own operating skills. As Ruttan filmed, it dawned on him that the video would be great content for Behind the Broadcast.
With Marshall’s permission, Ruttan posted the video to his account. He then sent it to SportsCenter IG—and they loved it. They reposted the video, and Behind the Broadcast grew from 3,000 to 5,000 followers in less than three days.
That one video captured the essence of Behind the Broadcast. And for Ruttan, it provided clear proof of concept
“Everything to me was momentum,” Ruttan says. “And so I saw what was working, and I continued sharing the things that my following liked.”
And so I saw what was working, and I continued sharing the things that my following liked.
Behind the Broadcast grew to around 8,000 followers over the next couple months. Then the account went viral again.
This time, Ruttan was working the NBA All-Star three-point contest in Cleveland, Ohio in the United States. He filmed cameraman Jock Gleason using a crank zoom, a rare and old-school method for shooting live sports. Ruttan filmed Gleason as he filmed Tre Young, then posted the video to his account.
“The video was instant gold,” Ruttan says.
While working the slam dunk contest that night, he met an admin for House of Highlight, which had 31 million followers at the time. The admin posted the new video to House of Highlight’s socials, and it received more shares and views than 95 percent of their all-star content.
In under 36 hours, Behind the Broadcast’s following exploded to more than 21,000.
Ruttan says his early growth came from a vision for the account that was more than an Instagram hack.
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Authenticity and Vision
First, he committed to the account because of his passion for the job.
“People didn’t see it as fake,” Ruttan says about sharing his day-to-day life. “It was driven by my love for broadcast.”
Second, he wanted the account to bring awareness to an industry typically dominated by talent.
“I wanted to be able to create something where I could help people get into the industry,” Ruttan says. “The people that are in front of the camera, they normally get all the credit. They get the limelight. So I wanted to be able to share or shed some of that light on the people that make it happen for those people that are in front of the camera.”
The people that are in front of the camera, they normally get all the credit […] I wanted to be able to share or shed some of that light on the people that make it happen for those people.
The niche following of Behind the Broadcast wasn’t just people in the industry but curious spectators who wanted to see how the production for a live concert, game, or video game competition was created.
“Only people that work day-to-day doing certain things know that kind of niche per se,” Ruttan says. “There’s an interest in everything. It’s just finding your own niche. And lucky for me, I found a niche that was very desired, and I found it. I saw it, and I saw an opportunity, and I ran with it.”
Not long after Ruttan started running, the account was becoming bigger than himself.
Creation to Curation
Ruttan remembers taking the Instagram Domination course and watching Foundr instructor Gretta van Riel share how she grew her business’s Instagram not because of advertisements but because of the audience’s natural love for the brand.
“And so I was thinking, ‘How can I come up with an idea or something where people are sharing what Behind the Broadcast is every day?’” Ruttan says. “And basically, my product is people’s lives.”
That’s when Behind the Broadcast’s strategy went from a creation page of just Ruttan’s behind-the-scenes experience to a curation page where the account shared behind the scenes of other broadcasting pros.
The methods helped Ruttan expand his reach. The account now has followers from all over the world, with pockets in surprising regions.
“I have a huge following in the Philippines because I think one of my videos went really viral in the Philippines, and then it just got reshared within the broadcast community of the Philippines,” Ruttan says.
He explains that the virality continued for his account because of the intimate connection with his audience. There are pages with seven times as many followers as Behind the Broadcast but half the number of views and likes.
“So finding a niche, finding the people that do what you do is everything because it’s those people that are going to want to see your niche succeed,” Ruttan says.
So finding a niche, finding the people that do what you do is everything because it’s those people that are going to want to see your niche succeed.
At one point, Behind the Broadcast was generating 1,000 followers a day. But Ruttan says the Instagram algorithm can be fickle, and he’s had dry spells when getting 1,000 followers a month seems daunting.
“I remember telling my friends, my family, my wife, ‘Once I hit 5,000 followers, I’m done,’” Ruttan recalls. “The more followers you gain, you would think the easier it would be to exponentially grow. But no one understands the Instagram algorithm. It has a mind of its own.”
That’s why Ruttan believes for any Instagram account to be successful, you need to have a richer purpose than just getting followers and likes.
Believe In Your Niche
Ruttan advises founders and fellow Instagrammers to continue believing in whatever their niche or craft is.
“[Don’t let] the algorithms defeat you because you will have that break, but you’ve got to also help yourselves. You’ve got to be reaching out to pages. You’ve got to be able to reach out to your following,” Ruttan says.
Even in a competitive space like social media, Ruttan believes connecting with fellow creators is necessary to achieve your goals.
“You’ve got to want it. I mean, people think things are just going to fall in your lap. I run a social media page, but it didn’t just happen. I put a lot of effort into it,” Ruttan says. “Everybody wants to help […] everybody wants to see success and wants to see growth.”
I run a social media page, but it didn’t just happen. I put a lot of effort into it.
Currently, Behind the Broadcast sells merchandise, and Ruttan earns income from advertisement partnerships, but his long-term goal isn’t to chase another follower milestone. He wants to help more people get into the broadcast industry he still loves.
“My life was so changed once I got into television,” Ruttan says. “Terminology, connections, networking, all those different things that can help people within the industry, that’s what my goal is now. To build a business where I can help people get into [broadcasting] and change [their] lives.”
Three years ago, the idea of sharing a genuine admiration for his industry changed Ruttan’s life.
Through the power of Instagram, he’s created a brand, business, and community of fellow behind-the-scenes heroes uniting their industry. And all it took was the willingness to hit record.
“When opportunity presents itself, don’t let self-doubt take over,” Ruttan says. “Just do it.”
Click here to get the same course that helped Parker Ruttan.