After The Athletic announced its hiring of Andy Staples, I tweeted this:
Staples’ hire is the latest example of the steady hoovering of journalistic talent the publication has embarked on over the last year. The format, absent ads and annoying popups, is certainly nice, but I wouldn’t fork over a subscription fee if I didn’t want to read the product. The Athletic is the only online sports site I pay to access.
I’m not posting this as a shameless plug, but because I’m interested in the future of its business model. What got me thinking about that is this article that Ed Kilgore forwarded to me, about how the website has taken a serious plunge into the English soccer market by doing the same thing it’s done here, across the pond.
A US sports website that wants to dominate the British football market has made a series of high-profile new signings, including an award-winning Guardian football writer and a BBC reporter with a massive following among London football fans.
The incredible hiring spree has been described as “setting off a bomb” in the industry.
BuzzFeed News has learned that the Athletic’s latest hires are the Guardian’s chief football writer Daniel Taylor and the BBC’s top football correspondent David Ornstein.
Taylor, who scooped the country’s top journalism accolades for breaking the UK’s football child abuse scandal, recently told the Guardian he’d be leaving after nearly 20 years at the newspaper.
Meanwhile, Ornstein, who has grown a cult following on Twitter for his tweets about transfer news and Arsenal, told BBC colleagues yesterday of the news.
What’s noteworthy is the ripple effect.
“The whole thing, it has set off a bomb,” one senior sports editor told BuzzFeed News. “Fuck, it’s tremendous.”
“Not just that there’s now 50 new jobs, but newsroom managers are trying to protect their teams. Reporters and editors are going to management to ask for more resources … and they’re giving them…
But the Athletic’s startling moves have also led to other newsrooms getting in on the hiring action, creating a merry-go-round of reporters at other outlets. It’s understood the Times has had multiple “crisis meetings” in recent weeks about the future of its football coverage.
There is a portion of the sports consuming public that is willing to pay for access. Hell, look at what we pay for tickets and for broadcasting of live sports. You’d think there’s a commercially viable way for that to translate over to sports journalism, especially if the alternative is the clickbait model employed by places like Dawgnation.
Speaking of which, I know I’m dating myself here, but I can remember a time when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had a world-class sports desk, with an array of talented writers worth shelling out a subscription for. I’d like to think there’s a place for that today, even if it means paying a little more for the privilege. So, here’s hoping The Athletic can inspire more of the same.