DYER | The local teenager who single-handedly maintains a Blackhawks fan page with more subscribers than most printed newspapers has been to exactly one of his favorite team’s games.
Lake Central senior Joel Miller, 18, came home from the United Center on the night of Jan. 14, 2010, with the goal-celebration song “Chelsea Dagger” by The Fratellis echoing in his ears.
“When that song’s in your head the whole night, it’s not something you forget easily,” Miller said.
Following a 3-0 win by the host Blackhawks over the Columbus Blue Jackets, Miller was amped. It was a Thursday, a week after his 15th birthday (the tickets were a present), and he wanted to show his pride after he and his dad Steve returned home.
He logged onto Facebook, scrolled past pages with names such as “I bet Texas can get 1 million fans before any other state” or “I bet this pickle can get more fans than Nickelback.” He then created the first NHL page with “I bet” in the title.
Three years later Miller has nearly 136,000 likes for the page “I bet the Blackhawks can get 1 million fans before any other NHL team!”
In addition, he has appeared on local Fox News, has been asked to speak at a college and has begun to monetize his creation with advertising dollars. A recent Facebook report told him that his content had more than 2 million combined views this week.
“It’s changed my life already, and it’s only been really successful for a few months,” Miller said.
A longtime hockey fan who learned the game playing pickup street hockey in rollerblades near a friend’s farm and repeatedly watching the Blackhawks on TV, Miller watches every Blackhawks game from home with a laptop in hand and creates real-time exclamation-mark-laden posts about the game’s goals, fights, results, etc.
The official Blackhawks Facebook page, with 1.2 million followers, does not update as much. The Blackhawks Twitter account posts consistent updates, but Miller is a go-to Facebook source. He updates Hawks news before games and shares fun Blackhawks content from around the internet.
Nearly every post by Miller has a picture with simple yet timely text added to the photo on the fly. Posts routinely receive an online thumbs-up from more than 5,000 Facebook users each, with hundreds of comments, vetted by Miller to maintain a professional, positive and conversational aura. Data shows that an average of 65,000 sets of eyes see each posted photo.
“I never expected it to be as big as it was,” Miller said. “At first I didn’t really know what those numbers meant.”
Advertisers did. In the past two months — as the Hawks began the season without a regulation loss in their first 24 games — offers have been coming steadily.
At first a website offered Miller $5 per post to advertise its all-Blackhawks content and giveaways. The company Fathead paid a nominal fee for two promotional posts, and now a local ticket brokerage firm has signed a long-term deal to advertise on the page.
Now Miller, who has held a part-time job at a local Subway shop for the past year and a half, is fielding more offers from businesses but pondering how he will maintain his page’s integrity and avoid turning it into a barrage of ads.
“Even if I’m getting paid for it, it still has to be all about the Blackhawks,” Miller said. “I’m not trying to get a million fans; I just want to tell people about the Blackhawks and have fun doing it.”
After creating the page he had 10,000 “likes” — or subscriptions, put another way — for his page. Before the 2010 season ended, with the Blackhawks winning their first Stanley Cup since 1961, he had more than 100,000 fans worldwide liking the page.
Facebook restricted Miller from posting status updates for most of the past two seasons.
In November, however, Miller noticed he could post at will again, and when the NHL lockout ended Jan. 6 he posted a picture of Marian Hossa with the words “WE’RE BACK.” The photo was “liked” by more than 15,000 people and shared by nearly 4,000.
“I can’t change the title of the page; Facebook won’t let me,” Miller said. “I just own a fan page for the Blackhawks. I don’t ask for likes or shares. People like my page because of what I post about the Blackhawks.”
Many are surprised that the site’s administrator is a high school senior.
At school, only a small inner sanctum knows Miller’s hidden hobby. He wears Blackhawks clothes once or twice a week despite having a plethora of Hawks paraphernalia in his house and a Blackhawks spare tire cover on his Jeep. His marketing teacher and economics teacher don’t know they have a student who was asked by a professor if he would speak about entrepreneurship to students at Tiffin University in Ohio.
Miller isn’t even enrolled in L.C.’s sports marketing class, even though he plans to attend Liberty University, where his older brother is a current student, to pursue the subject.
“Not only is he doing something he loves, but he’s connecting with other people who love what he’s writing about and the way he’s writing about it,” Steve Miller, a pastor at the Village Church in Dyer, said.
“You never can guess the impact of one choice. He made a choice, and it has blossomed into something big.”
Joel Miller’s page promoted some autograph events in Frankfort, Ill., and he was invited to meet goalies Ray Emery and Corey Crawford and center Andrew Shaw. He chatted with each one, piquing Shaw’s interest with talk of the site, and has autographed pucks from all three players.
Fans have contacted the Blackhawks on Miller’s behalf to ask them to have him as a guest at a game, but the best he’s received from the team is an autographed 8x10 picture of his favorite player, Patrick Kane, with the message, “Great work, Joel.”
Miller doesn’t know how he’ll maintain his web presence while in college out of market, where it’ll also be hard to see another game.
“But now,” he said, “if I go to a game I won’t be able to update my page.”