By Adam White, @FOSAdam
If 2016 was any indicator of what’s to come, 2017 might be the year of the comeback. Chokers are back in style; guy’s shorts are getting shorter again, and we are paying for content. Wait, are we really paying for content? In 2017? If, The Athletic, a Silicon-Valley based startup has anything to say, the answer is yes.
Founded in 2016, The Athletic is the brainchild of Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann. Teammates at Strava, a subscription based fitness company, the two bet they could take what they learned and apply it to a media company.
Based on bringing national innovation to sports writing at a localized level, The Athletic has already established coverage in Chicago and Toronto. With a third city on the way, the year-old startup looks to continue its growth in key markets across the country.
High quality content, an innovative website and a sleek app that is easy to use for subscribers is the name of the game for The Athletic.
With subscriptions priced at $4.99 per month or $39.99 annually, Hansmann believes there is value for the consumer and the entity when it comes to paying for content.
“For us, it was an opportunity to come in and focus on an extremely high bar of quality, avoid the temptation that comes with being focused on clicks and volume and serving ads and, if we do that, we think people will pay a reasonable price,” he said.
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Aware of the struggles of the media industry in the 21st century, Mather and Hansmann saw an opening, especially at the local level, for innovation and progress.
“In terms of local sports coverage, we didn’t think the quality was that good, or that innovative,” added Hansmann. “We wanted to localize innovative approaches that were successful nationally, but that weren’t being applied locally.”
In an era where it has almost been taboo to charge for content, The Athletic is finding success with its approach, especially with millennials.
According to Hansmann, two-thirds of their paying subscribers are millennials.
While many newspapers may laugh at the idea that millennials will pay for content, Hansmann saw the successes of services like Spotify and knew it could be translated.
“We have talked to a lot of newspapers and have had a lot of them chuckle at the fact that millennials will pay for content because they have grown up in an era where everything on the Internet should be free,” added Hansmann. “Look at Netflix, look at Spotify, and look at Hulu. The evidence is there that people are willing to fork over a few dollars a month.”
Like most media outlets that rely on subscriptions to generate revenue, acquisition of subscribers remains The Athletic’s number one challenge.
To get a reader to make the jump from a few free stories a month to a paid subscription may take months, but, when it happens, Hansmann knows the value in it.
“A subscriber is worth 1,000 clicks,” he added. “If we put out a story that gets us five new subscribers, I’ll take that any day over a story that goes viral.”
Along with their innovative website, The Athletic touts a sleek app that is engaging, easy to use and most importantly, easy to read and enjoy.
In a time where owners of smartphones only download 1.5 apps per month, there is value from a growth perspective for Mather and Hansmann to have an app that is complementary to their website.
“The first version of our app was designed more for the super-user while the latest rendition works not only for said users, but as a growth tool for us,” Hansmann added. “A pipe dream would be able to show a Cubs game directly in our app."
Although only a year old, Hansmann has lofty goals for The Athletic and their place in the sports media market.
“The goal is to become the go-to premium brand for local sports coverage.”
Not only do they want to harness the power of local sports coverage, they want to be more than just a content producer.
“We want The Athletic to become a movement in every market we enter. We don’t just want to create content, we want to create a community of sports fans.”
If early numbers (80% of readers view every article that is produced, and subscribers are spending an average of 90 minutes a week reading content on the site) and confidence from investors are any sign, it looks like The Athletic is well on its way to being a sports media staple for years to come.