There is no denying the impact The Athletic is having on sports journalism. The company keeps hiring great writers. It has the investors necessary to sustain itself, and they are willing to spend the necessary money to be everywhere major sports are played.
A profile in the New York Times made it clear where The Athletic stands on its local site model and who it sees as the competition.
“We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing,” Alex Mather, a co-founder of The Athletic, said in an interview in San Francisco.“We will suck them dry of their best talent at every moment. We will make business extremely difficult for them.”
Well, it looks like The Washington Post isn’t going to wait for The Athletic to come to town and then react. A tweet from DDA Marketing revealed that The Post is willing to play The Athletic‘s game. The paper is considering launching a subscription service for sports coverage.
Looks like The Washington Post will be next to try an online subscriber-only model for sports… pic.twitter.com/R2PgMcS8yp
— DDA Marketing (@ddamarketing) July 5, 2018
It will be interesting to see how The Washington Post decides to proceed with this model. An all-DC sports site seems like the most realistic option, but perhaps a specialty service that focuses exclusively on say the Redskins or the Stanley Cup champion Capitals could make the same amount profit while utilizing fewer resources.
Sean Keely of Awful Announcing says until we know for sure what The Washington Post’s subscription service looks like, it will be hard to know the demand for it. He also says this might actually be a good thing for The Athletic.
At first glance, it’s very unclear exactly what this subscription-based product looks like and if it provides enough value to make readers want to sign up. Some of these potential offerings, such as aggregated social feeds, newsletters, and breaking news alerts, aren’t exactly unique and can be acquired for free in multiple places. However, the value would be in getting exclusive content from WaPo reporters, writers, and experts, which is likely where their main selling points would be. If regular readers were suddenly unable to read post-game analysis from their favorites unless they paid $5.99/month (or whatever the number is), that might be the kind of thing that feels worthwhile.
As for the overall impact of a major news brand like the WaPo leaning into subscription-only content, that remains to be seen. However, it could end up legitimizing The Athletic in a major way. It could be a signal to the industry and consumers that this is the way of the future for sports content and not only is The Athletic right, but they were the ones who saw it first.
Lost in all of this is the fact that Washington, DC already has a sports subscription service started by three local writers last year. It’s called Sports Capitol and charges $5.99 per month.