The Athletic

Comments The Athletic CEO Alex Mather made earlier this month about establishing “a presence in every market with a professional sports team by the end of the year” are coming to pass, and more quickly than many expected. The site announced plans for coverage in Denver, Tampa and Seattle earlier this week, and it now appears that the long-anticipated Boston site (which Mather mentioned in that earlier interview with Benjamin Mullin of The Wall Street Journal) is almost ready to launch.

Chad Finn of The Boston Globe tweeted about several apparent hires Thursday:

Jay King and Jen McCaffrey both work for MassLive.com, owned by Advance Publications and associated with The Springfield Republican, and they cover the Celtics and Red Sox respectively there. Jennings covers the Red Sox for The Boston Herald. Shinzawa covers the Bruins and the NHL for Finn’s paper, the Globe; his current Twitter handle is actually @GlobeFluto, but that will presumably change. Finn also tweeted high praise for him:

And while Finn’s media transactions column hasn’t posted yet, the Patriots’ hire also appears to be out of the bag thanks to a response he retweeted:

That is a reference to Jeff Howe, who currently covers the Patriots for the Herald. So those are some significant names from Boston-area papers who will presumably already be familiar to many Boston sports fans, and that fits with the model The Athletic has used in most cities, largely hiring beat writers from established papers.

The timing here is notable, too. We don’t know exactly when The Athletic Boston will launch, but it’s presumably soon, with the city already being mentioned by the CEO and with news of reported hires coming out. And the baseball season just started, and the Celtics and Bruins are set to start the playoffs soon, and the NFL draft is approaching.

That’s great timing for The Athletic, as there should be significant interest in all four of those teams over the next month and more, but it’s rough timing for papers that have to replace beat writers at an important part of the year. Then again, that’s certainly not anything Mather and his company are concerned about, given his previous comments:

“We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing. We will suck them dry of their best talent at every moment. We will make business extremely difficult for them.”

What’s maybe most interesting about The Athletic Boston is that it’s entering a market where there’s already an established independent digital sports site, Greg Bedard’s Boston Sports Journal (which launched last summer). Of course, that didn’t stop The Athletic from going to Pittsburgh (home of Dejan Kovacevic’s DK Pittsburgh Sports), where they launched their own site last fall. And Kovacevic’s site had already been around for three years versus Bedard’s site’s one (and Bedard’s uses Kovacevic’s platform and advice from him), so it was already clear that digital competition wasn’t going to keep The Athletic out.

But the competition is definitely notable, as fans in those markets have their choice of digital sports coverage to support. That may make the selection of writers and the coverage priorities for those sites even more important, as they now have to compete not just with newspapers, radio and TV stations and blogs, but with another subscription digital platform offering something very similar.

Some diehard fans may choose to pay for both, but it seems likely that many will choose one or the other, and while The Athletic has the advantage of offering access to its national coverage and coverage in other cities as well, sites like the Boston Sports Journal have the advantage of being truly locally-run. (Plus, Bedard is definitely prominent thanks to his past work for Sports Illustrated, the Globe, and other papers.)

At the moment, there’s probably room for both given the interest in Boston teams right now, but Finn tweets, and he’s right, that the real key question is going to be what happens when one or more of those teams goes through a rough patch:

We’ll see how The Athletic Boston does, and how it’s received. But it’s certainly one of the more notable Athletic verticals to watch given the local competition. And now we have more of an idea of just who’s going to be involved with it.

[Chad Finn on Twitter]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing.