One of the most intriguing transfer developments of the Premier League closed season involves not a club, nor a player, but the men (and it's mostly men) up in the pressbox.
American website The Athletic revealed plans this week to launch a website targeted specifically at the UK. According to Digiday, it will be staffed by up to 55 editorial staffers, including some of the bigger names in football journalism.
The Athletic, backed by $28 million in venture capital, has legitimately changed how Americans consume sport news over the past four years. The website started modestly, covering the sporting scenes in various big cities for a subscription price of about $10 per month or $50 per year. In the last two years however, The Athletic has gone on a spending spree, hiring a number of sports journalists with national profiles like Jay Glazer, Jayson Stark and Lindsay Jones. Last year, the New York Times reported that The Athletic now employs over 300 editorial staff and boasts it has well over 100,000 subscribers.
The Athletic has built its success on being a hot take-free zone, favouring ad-free analysis and old-fashioned sports reporting. It provides the kind of quality local sports coverage that American newspapers can no longer afford to provide. It also has a brilliant app and if you're fan of pretty much any major sports team in America, The Athletic has in-depth, reliable and constant reporting for you.
Yesterday, Buzzfeed reported that its first hires were Independent's sports editor Ed Malyon and the Times's sports editor Alex Kay-Jelski. Oliver Kay and George Caulkin, two Times football reporters familiar to anyone who follow the Premier League on Twitter, did not deny moves to The Athletic when queried by Buzzfeed. Match report maestros like Jonathan Liew and Barney Ronay were apparently approached.
The bigger question is not who else The Athletic will enlist, but whether their model will transfer to how people in the UK and Ireland consume football news. Premier League supporters currently don't have to look far for quality coverage of their club outside of the paywall. While Buzzfeed reported that there are fears that the Times will have its sports department gutted by The Athletic, it seems inevitable that the website will be looking to establish a niche between the national titles and regional newspapers like the Liverpool Echo and the Manchester Evening News.
“This is not an extension of the US; this is about how to empower our writers for a UK audience,” The Athletic's chief of staff Akhil Nambiar told Digiday, while saying subscription rates would stay around the current price of about £40 per year.
With talks of offers of signing bonuses and big contracts, football journalists seem to be welcoming the arrival of The Athletic and the effect it might have on the current model of Premier League reporting.
A bit trade, this, but I hope The Athletic starting in the UK will force newspapers to face the insanity of trying to cover night games that finish at 10/10.30pm in print first editions. New model needed.
— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) June 10, 2019
If successful, The Athletic could certainly herald the day of a bigger Premier League paywall.
The site is set to launch around kickoff in the next Premier League season.
UPDATE Thursday: It looks like Phil Hay, the massively respected beat reporter for Leeds United could be making the switch to The Athletic next season. Hay tweeted today he'd be leaving the Yorkshire Evening Post and would be revealing more about his next role as a football reporter shortly. Don't be surprised to see if him covering Leeds for The Athletic next season
really pleased that my next job will keep me in football writing, keep me covering Leeds United and keep me on Twitter. But more about that another time.
— Phil Hay (@PhilHay_) June 13, 2019