After a few years of sporadically clicking on headlines from the gated content site the Athletic, I’ve crossed the chasm as a consumer. The final straw was an article published last week in Bloomberg about the founders and their story. Belief that “someone has to be in the locker room” and guiding writers to “do the best work of your career” turned intermittent click intrigue into paying customer.
Local, civic minded news is where I read and think about journalism the most, not athletics. Going to a UGA football game or Braves game is fun, but the title of a die-hard fan is a long way away. Also, after a year or so of the Wall Street Journal, the tidbits were less frequent and the price point was too high for the value, so I cancelled.
Quality sports journalism (d)evolved through the following. The printed newspaper and their sports section used to do the trick in elementary and middle school. Then, an hour long SportsCenter hoping for a blurb on your team filled the college years. Now, I get my sports news through push notifications from the Braves app or a combination of Instagram accounts. Weak outlets around professional storytelling.
One week with the Athletic and the relationship between team and fan has spawned again. The Athletic nails key standards most readers expect today. First they localize the experience for the customer. The Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Bulldogs, Atlanta United and general golf are my interests. If you want to look at other teams, you can search their database of 400+ writers and their respective teams, but anything outside of the teams you care about are not pushed to you via email, feeds, and push notifications. Second, the writers have the experience, relationships, and talent to get to the heart of a story. Currently eight writers cover Atlanta including Jeff Shultz who spent 29 years at the AJC. Just this week, I read about Kirby Smart’s decision on his quarterback, Acuna’s chase to be the youngest player to reach “baseball’s most exclusive group,” the 40-40 club, and why Falcon’s kicker Matt Bryant is working out with the Falcons. At 44 years old and $2.8mm a year, he’s an expensive veteran, but reliable when it matters.
If you receive communication from the Athletic, there is a high probability it’s relevant and very good writing. One week in and I’m impressed. For the price of two months of the WSJ, you can get the Athletic for the year.
The elephant in the room around any new publication in the post-internet world is the economics. According to Bloomberg, the venture-backed Athletic seems to be growing in a responsible trajectory but it’s always tough to tell from the side-lines.
In the mean time, connecting to the souls of the team, supporting local writers, and becoming a more informed fan makes the sports seasons much more entertaining.