SPORTS Two Bits, Four Bits, Three Thousand Dollars

There’s gold in those high school football fans.

When David Holland was playing high school football for the Floydada Whirlwinds, he didn’t realize he was training to become a magazine publisher. But growing up in Floydada, in the sticks of West Texas, David Holland learned about two things. One was football. The other was resourcefulness.

David’ Holland is the high school football writer for the Dallas Morning News. Ask any sportswriter what the high school football beat is like and he’ll tell you it’s pretty much the pits. Low man on the totem pole and all that. Ask David Holland about the high school football beat and he’ll tell you that he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in locker rooms watching children act like men or getting swept out of dingy press boxes by the stadium janitor. But he’ll also tell you that while he’s at it, he might as well make the most of it. That he might as well, for example, make three thousand extra dollars.

David R. Holland’s D-FW Metroplex High School Football magazine hit the local newsstands in August. It is titled “David R. Holland’s” because David R. Holland is the owner, president, publisher, art director, layout artist, advertising director, advertising salesman, circulation director, and distributor of the magazine. The very existence of the magazine makes two statements. One is that high school football is very big stuff. The second is that David R. Holland is a hell of a lot more industrious than I am.

When David Holland graduated from Floydada High, he hung up his cleats (“I wasn’t very good”) and headed for journalism school at Texas Tech. In 1972, he landed a job in the sports department of the Waco Tribune-Herald and worked for Dave Campbell, who is also editor and publisher of the well-known Texas Football magazine. Holland did some proofreading for Campbell and a seed was planted.

When Holland was hired four years ago by the News, he was offered the high school football beat. Deciding he was in no position to be choosy, he took it. (“There are plenty of would-be sports writers kicking around in rinky-dink Texas newspapers who would love to have my job.”) As he took hold of his beat, he began toying with the idea of a magazine for high school football. His instincts, as he watched thousands of Friday night maniacs scream for their boys, told him the audience was there. But what the hell did he know about producing a magazine? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. So he decided to try it.

Fortunately, his idea was not an original. There was a precedent, and advice to be had. Holland went to Bill McMurray of the Houston Chronicle, who publishes Greater Houston Football. McMurray gave him some tips and told him to give it a shot. But McMurray, wise from ten years in the business, warned him that he would definitely lose money the first year. McMurray was wrong.

Holland went first to his boss at the News, sports editor Walt Robertson, and told him what he wanted to do. Robertson, probably trying to suppress a chuckle, said fine, just don’t do it on News time. “That was my first stroke of luck,” says Holland. “I don’t know of any other newspaper that would have let me try it. The Herald would have laughed in my face. But I think the people at the News were plenty surprised it got off the ground.”

If he had needed a financial backer, it might not have. But Holland backed himself; he had saved several thousand dollars (probably the greatest miracle of this whole little success story, considering the salaries of most sports reporters) and dumped it all into his project.

He set up corporate headquarters in his small apartment in Farmer’s Branch. Last summer, 1977, he printed up ad rate cards and went knocking on doors. He went to the biggies, the people who usually show a propensity for sponsoring sports: Dr Pepper, Coca-Cola, Cullum & Boren, Doak Walker’s. To his surprise, they responded. He went to the Southwest Conference universities to try to convince them that a full-page ad would serve them well as a recruiting tool. To his surprise, they were convinced. Still, advertising makes up only 10 percent of his magazine. Ten percent would spell doom for most publications, but as it turned out, it fully covered the expense of producing the magazine, about $10,000. The reason is that Holland, the one-man show, had little in the way of overhead. Like none.

Except for some sporadic help from a couple of friends and his brother and sister-in-law, Holland did it all himself. From February through June, he became “a hermit” and put in about 450 hours (in addition to his regular News job) writing all the copy, pasting down all the pages, and sweating all the problems. “I thought I’d finally had it when, late one night, I couldn’t find the nameline for Lance Mcllhenny’s photo. I knew it was somewhere, but it was nowhere to be found. That’s as close as I came to quitting. The next day I found it in my shower drain.” (David R. Holland has a lot more patience than I do.)

Finally, in July, he had it all put together, the gridiron lowdown on about 120 area high schools, with photos to match. The magazine went to press and in late July rolled out 5000 copies into Holland’s ecstatic arms. He started hawking them. He put them on newsstands (“Not many sales there, except at the Commerce Street newsstand, where they’ve sold quite a few”); he sold them on consignment through high school coaches and booster clubs; he peddled them to university athletic departments as a recruiting aid (and found buyers as far away as Iowa State and Notre Dame).

The magazine has sold well at $2 a shot. Holland predicts he will sell a minimum of 4000 copies. And the general response has been positive. High school coaches have said it’s been a helpful scouting aid. College coaches, like Hayden Fry of NTSU, have called it a valuable recruiting aid. And the fans of high school football have responded too. “The reason it worked,” says Holland, “the reason I did it, is because, amazingly, enough people out there are starving for high school football coverage. What they get in the newspapers is piecemeal. I went on Ray Gaskin’s talk show recently to talk about it, and Ray was afraid we wouldn’t get any phone calls. There were seven or eight phone lines lit up the whole time. People went crazy.”

Holland claims casually that “I know more about high school football in Dallas and Fort Worth than anybody.” His magazine bears him out – most of his predictions are, to date, right on the money. His strongest tip, for anyone with even a remote interest in high school football, is to keep your eye on the topsyturvy and talent-rich District 13-AAAA. There are a host of powerhouse teams in that district this year – Piano, Highland Park, Richardson, Lake Highlands, Sherman – and Holland figures the team that wins it has a good chance of going to the state championship.

Holland is already talking like a corporate success. “Sure I’ll do it again next year. I should be able to sell much more advertising just on the strength of this one. And I think next year I’m going to hire at least one full-time assistant. I’m a little burned out on high school football.”

But with no regrets. Holland figures to pocket a healthy $3000 in profits for this first effort, with bigger ideas for next year.

It’s possible that you’re wondering whyI’ve bothered to report this little successstory. That’s simple. I’m impressed.David R. Holland now has a lot moremoney than I do.

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