University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

The Athletic – What do content subscriptions mean going forward?

James Cohen

ByJames Cohen

Oct 21, 2019

By Jonny Garwood

Tube ads constantly push new products in your face and, commuters hearing of the new sports media application entitled The Athletic might be encouraged to perform a quick Google search. The French and English language platform quickly presents itself as ‘the home of sports writing’, inviting users to subscribe to their favourite teams and stay up to date with ad-free, ‘quality’ content, however, this is evidently not free, it is behind a paywall. As such, this application is demonstrating a new direction to sports-based publishing, which predominantly has been taken on by streaming giants such as Spotify in Netflix in charging a fixed fee for access, at a basic monthly fee of £9.99 per month for all-you-can-eat sports journalism.

Subscribers might ask, why have journalistic platforms taken this big, risky step in charging users for content which was previously free at the point of use? Football is a big entertainment business, and alike the sudden expansion of televised football over the last few years, football journalism and coverage are in a major period of growth largely due to the ubiquity of mobile platforms, all-you-can-eat data and a transition from print to digital content. Newspapers today are no longer as ubiquitous as a decade or two ago, and it makes perfect sense for the platform to market itself, with stark background description other than the minimalism of a name and black outdrop, on a major transport hub whereby the majority of consumers will possess at least one mobile device. It could be asked, is there much else that can be done to draw potential consumers in than to embrace the Google search function in a similar way to the ‘cliffhang’ of the ending of a contemporary Netflix hit show? 

This is not the first venture into sports publishing for the Athletic, as the organisation has long been held as a major source of news in the US for American sports- proclaiming itself as providing ‘national and local coverage’ in 47 American cities as well as having now expanded operations to the United Kingdom as of August 2019. Across the pond, The  Athletic is already embedded into sporting journalistic culture, however this is a major growth point for the organisation, which is already in some ways a major name, considering the reach and attraction of Premier League football. In consequence, what makes The Athletic stand out and gives it a major advantage in this field is the financial backing, trust and recognition which it possesses, having already been established in a major market and this will be a boost even in the United Kingdom. A quick glance on The Athletic’s website makes clear the interactivity of the platform, with a key selling point being the featuring of major writers and frequent updates to all major teams, suggesting that this is a platform which will be worth the money spent and all corners of football reporting will be covered – as long as you make sure to subscribe. Clearly, the launch of this application has already been a major business venture, particularly as it is evident that the amount of money put into this platform is significant, and this is an advantage which many other start-ups or platforms do not possess. It has been reported that the platform has already spent in the range of ‘millions’ of pounds acquiring journalists such as Sam Lee, Ed Malyon and a number of well regarded local or regional sports writers.

It is said that this edition of The Athletic started off as an idea sparked by a conversation at the luxury Marriott Hotel, at Park Lane in London. Presentations were pitched to established football writers and they idea was tried and tested in theory, with promises of massive salaries at double their original worth if allegiances were switched. It could be said that this project is ambitious, however it is yet to be demonstrated as to whether this idea is sustainable or takes off when put into practice. This is already an incredibly saturated market, and today, status and reputation go a long way in the field of sports coverage and The Athletic have clearly sought to capitalise on this – it aims to differentiate itself through ‘quality analysis’ rather than speculation or rumour. One Copa90 writer made a comparison between the platform’s arrival into football journalism with Roman Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea in 2004 – for many, however, this is an exciting, transitional period in sports journalism and traditional printmakers and broadcasters are highly at risk if they do not catch up.

As a global platform, the Premier League has a distinct advantage in terms of attracting investment, quality reporting and televising fixtures. In today’s contemporary capitalist society whereby prevalence and quantity are regarded more highly than the quality of produce and consumption, it is a money-making machine and it fills in to the ‘attention economy’ whereby corporations are fixed in competition over how to maximise and garner as much interest as possible in an already crowded market. Apps such as Goal, Copa90, the Guardian football weekly and numerous other sources exist already, and thus, The Athletic must demonstrate how it is to stand out from competition.

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