Like so many other media outlets and streaming services, The Athletic initially launched with a subscription-based business model that focused on getting users to pay for the product rather than inundating them with advertising.
Just like with almost all of those other media outlets and streaming services, they eventually gave up on that. Not long after the New York Times acquired the sports-centric site in February 2022, they introduced advertising that September.
Readers were initially annoyed but, as usually happens in these situations, everyone seems to have gotten used to it. And while the Times announced that The Athletic was still operating at a loss in Q4, revenue was up. The site “generated $85.7 million in revenue in 2022, up from about $65 million the year before.”
Sebastian Tomich, The Athletic’s chief commercial officer, recently sat down with Ad Exhanger’s Anthony Vargas, and discussed, amongst other things, how he thinks sports readers actually kinda like advertising.
“Sports fans almost want advertising to be part of their experience because they are used to all the integrations you see when you go to games and when you watch on TV,” Tomich said. “The field is so ripe to do creative things.”
He added that he wants The Athletic to offer the kind of advertising that stands out from the crowd.
“Similar to what The Athletic pulled off editorially, we’d like the advertising product to be a bit elevated from the competition,” Tomich said. “We can take what we’ve done at the Times and bring it to The Athletic, and that would be a win. But I want to be able to do things that are specifically for sports fans.”
One interesting side note was in reference to a question of whether or not The Athletic will ever expand its role in the media towards TV or radio broadcasting. While that seems to be a solid no, “live events” are something that is on the table.
“I don’t see us acquiring sports [broadcasting] rights, competing with Amazon, Disney, and Apple,” said Tomich. “But everything else is on the table. Sports is a visual product. And sports talk radio is a giant industry. Sports podcasting is something we already have a strong foothold in, and we have a nascent video business that will no doubt grow. We don’t do any live events right now, but we will in the future.”
He added that podcasting was “our biggest part of the business last year” and now it’s about trying to figure out how to best monetize audio programming while differentiating between “the hits and the niche podcasts.”