Not to sound too cynical, but sports journalism in recent years has devolved into a glorified score board.
Most in the industry heavily rely on ads for revenue and fill out the rest of their content bucket with fluffy click bait news pieces.
A quick stop-over at typical online sports magazines always begins and ends with a bombardment of pop-ups asking for an email address and a subscription to a newsletter. Then they hit you with an auto-play video.
The Athletic, however, brings the business back to its core principles.
The startup, funded initially by Y combinator, managed to gather a whopping $5.4 million in further funding on the principle of having advertisement-free revenue, and relying on old fashioned quality news pieces.
“The current media industry is driven by advertising, which means they often have to prioritize their stakeholders over their users. They have to do all these things that compromise what the user actually wants,” says Alex Mather, co-founder of The Athletic to Y Combinator.
Mather, along with his partner Adam Hansmann, founded The Athletic with absolutely no experience in journalism. The duo managed to turn members of the Sports social network, Strava, from thousands to millions.
In an interview with Niemanlab, Hansmann reported “We’re not about trying to be the next ESPN or something, but finding the segment of fans that care deeply about their teams and serving them with something that’s high-quality.”
The subscription-based magazine focuses on in-depth local sports news for different cities, rather than just the highlights of the industry, a concept that allowed them to poach Paul Fichtenbaum, Sports Illustrated Group’s former editor-in-chief as their new chief content officer, as well as some of the most talented local sports reporters.
The magazine, although only covering 4 cities so far (Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, and Cleveland) has plans to expand to more cities. Their success follows the guidelines of a subscription-based business, offered by Entrepreneur and Harvard Business Review, like maintaining a strong personal relationship with the subscribers through providing in-depth stats about each city’s favorite teams, rather than just writing about headlines that are covered by every other publication. The company also makes sure they have a market/service fit before investing in on-boarding customers.
“The current media industry is driven by advertising, which means they often have to prioritize their stakeholders over their users. They have to do all these things that compromise what the user actually wants,” says Mather, emphasizing that his startup stands alone, in the middle of an ad-driven market.