There’s been plenty of talk about The Athletic expanding its hockey coverage, and Awful Announcing has learned of some of the figures involved.
According to an Awful Announcing source, the site is set to hire former ESPN writer Pierre LeBrun (let go in the layoffs there in April). They’re also getting ready to roll out team sites across Canada and hiring writers to run and contribute to those, and the source tells AA that will include Mike Halford and Jason Brough in Vancouver (formerly of Orland Kurtenblog and NBC’s Pro Hockey Talk, currently of TSN 1040), Kent Wilson (of Flames Nation) in Calgary and Jonathan Willis (of Oilers Nation and other sites) in Edmonton.
(Update: The Athletic has announced the hire of LeBrun. They’ve also officially announced the rollout of sites across Canada, mentioned that they’ll be covering the CWHL as well, and mentioned the addition of Hockey News/Yahoo Sports Canada vet Ian Denomme as deputy editor for The Athletic Canada, plus Yahoo vet Sunaya Sapurji coming on full-time as assistant managing editor in Toronto and former CIS and CWHL player Karolina Urban signing on as a women’s hockey writer. )
It seems that the Athletic has grabbed some Twitter accounts for those different cities too. There’s been a @TheAthleticEDM, a @TheAthleticCGY, a @TheAthleticWPG and a @TheAthleticOTT since December 2016 (with no tweets), but a @TheAthleticVN just showed up this month.
The hiring of LeBrun has been rumored for a while, and @yyzsportsmedia actually tweeted about him as their next target last week. It’s a hire that would seem to make a lot of sense; the site got a lot of buzz for landing a noted reporter on the baseball side in Ken Rosenthal, and LeBrun provides similar credibility in the hockey world. An interesting question will be exactly where LeBrun’s work lands.Will it be on The Athletic Ink (which Rosenthal will be a lead voice for, and which he described as “a mix of features, enterprise and longform, as well as news“), or mostly on The Athletic Toronto, or spread across the different city sites, or some mix of the above?
We’re seeing The Athletic work to integrate national coverage with local on the college football and college basketball sites, and it seems they’ll probably be doing some of the same in the hockey world too. And given the number of hockey markets The Athletic now covers, there should be plenty of opportunities for synergy.
We wrote last week about The Athletic’s co-founder believing that “every market is big enough to justify our model“; the Canadian team-specific sites may test that, but the NHL teams in those cities certainly have significant fanbases, and if these sites can draw enough of those fans in, it could work out.
We’re seeing other hockey hires from The Athletic, too. A few of the many moves they’ve made there include bringing on Broad Street Hockey’s Charlie O’Connor at The Athletic Philadelphia (a move announced late last month), adding former ESPN writer Corey Pronman (announced late last month), hiring former NHL and CP writer Arpon Basu as editor The Athletic Montreal (announced last month), adding former ESPN writer Craig Custance as editor of The Athletic Detroit (announced in June and former ESPN writer Katie Strang as managing editor there (also announced in June), and bringing in former The Score writer Justin Bourne at The Athletic Toronto (announced in June, became official earlier this month). And it sounds like former Minneapolis Star-Tribune writer Michael Russo may follow.
The focus on hockey coverage is interesting, too, as that’s an area that ESPN drastically reduced its presence in with its layoffs. Maybe there’s an opportunity for The Athletic to pick up some of that audience. We’ll see where they go from here.