In January, Katie Feeney nervously waded across the turf at FedEx Field, home stadium of the Washington Commanders (formerly Redskins).
The Maryland native, 19, had been invited by the team to unofficially try out for a role that didn’t yet exist — the Commanders’ social media correspondent. And though she is something of a content savant — having amassed nearly seven million followers on TikTok and 900,000 on Instagram, and earned an eye-popping fortune — this was a whole other challenge.
“I was shooting behind-the-scenes content of the players warming up, hanging out with the fans, anything they did before the game, essentially,” Feeney said.
She passed with flying colors.
The team’s posts on Instagram typically bring in several thousand likes and 100 or so comments. Feeney’s, however, earned more than 42,000 likes and 730 comments.
“After she came to the home finale last season, our conversation evolved into how she and the team could mutually grow their partnership in 2022,” said Kevin Kline, the Commanders’ social media director.
Now, she is the team’s official social media correspondent, and the first person to hold such a role in the NFL.
“There aren’t a lot of people my age in the professional sports industry — and there definitely are not a lot of women — so being able to do this feels really cool,” Feeney said.
Plus, “My older brothers and I have always been huge Commanders fans. We loved going to games growing up.” She even brought them and her parents with her to the game that landed her the NFL gig.
“It was surreal,” Feeney said. “But I was able to ask the players for pictures without feeling shy and embarrassed.”
The first one she approached? Terry McLaurin, the team’s wide receiver: “It was beyond cool and my brother was freaking out.”
The youngest of three children — her dad is a deputy state’s attorney; her mom, an event planner — Feeney embarked on her social media journey at age 13 on Musical.ly (which later morphed into TikTok), posting short videos with her after-school dance teammates performing to popular songs.
“I made comedy videos, too,” she added. “I hadn’t gotten into a niche yet, but I had fun. But Musical.ly wasn’t cool at all — especially not in the way that TikTok is cool [now].”
So much so, it made her a target.
“In middle school, I quit for about a year because kids were giving me such a hard time for it in school,” Feeney said. “I’d come home crying, saying ‘I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be the weird social media girl.’”
After a breather, she downloaded Snapchat and then TikTok and began posting again.
But then the COVID-19 lockdown happened and Feeney, like many other Americans, was restless and bored. She used her newfound downtime to film Amazon product reviews of everything from skincare to mini cake-pop makers. “I had a lot of time during that long span so I’d film multiple times per day,” she said.
The golden rule of social-media success is to post at least once a day to grow your following, and even though growth wasn’t Feeney’s goal, she gained more than three million followers on TikTok within a few months.
And then an even crazier thing happened.
In November of 2020, Snapchat launched its now-popular Spotlight feature, which lets users post clips of up to one minute. Feeney was an early adopter, posting videos of her favorite products, with unboxing clips and demonstrations. Suddenly, some of her videos were garnering millions of views per day.
At the end of her first week, Feeney got a Snapchat notification that her content had earned her more than $200,000. In just six weeks, she made more than $1 million on the app.
“I was absolutely shocked. My parents and I didn’t think it was real at first,” she said.
Rather than splurge on a lavish new lifestyle, she opened a 401K, invested, and paid for for her education at Penn State, where she just finished her first year as a broadcast journalism major. She didn’t buy a new car or an apartment, or even a handbag.
“I made this crazy amount of money and have no idea what to do with it,” Feeney said. “I’m not a big spender.”
In 2021, she made another $1 million-plus from brand deals and creator funds across Snapchat Spotlight, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.
Feeney said her family, with whom she is living with for the summer, pokes fun at her for complaining about Uber surcharges: “My mom will joke, ‘You can afford to spend an extra $5 on an Uber. You just made a million dollars.’”
Last year, she interned for Penn State’s football team, doing social media, which is how Kline discovered her.
“First and foremost, she’s a Maryland kid and her family are Washington fans, and that … authenticity was what mattered most,” Kline said. “She’s [also] extremely versatile and knows how to really fit in and adapt to any situation.”
Feeney admitted she gets recognized all the time, mostly on campus.
“People have been nice and respectful. For the most part, I’ve received a lot of positive responses, and it’s always a fun thing when someone notices me when I’m out,” she said.
And she’s come a long way since high school, when she could hardly stomach the negative comments.
“If someone is taking time out of their day to say something mean, they’re probably going through something so I try not to take it personally,” she said, adding that it’s a law of averages: “If you have a big following on social media, you’ll get a lot of mean people in your feed. But if social media and promoting something you love on social media is something that brings people joy, keep at it. If I can spread that message … then I’ve succeeded.”
Although she already has her dream job, Feeney plans to finish her education — and isn’t so sure she’ll stay in the same field.
Social media, after all, is an ever-evolving industry and Feeney realizes that it’s tough, if not impossible, to guess where it might be in a few years. So she’s not determined to build her career around it, even though she does want to stay in sports.
“I’ve always loved going to games, and being on the field with Penn State football is so exciting. [Social media] has helped me realize the path I want take,” Feeney said. “I would love to be a sports broadcaster.”