In just a couple of years, The Athletic has established a roster of writers to rival any sports media company on earth. From big-name national reporters such as Ken Rosenthal, Jayson Stark, Stewart Mandel and Seth Davis to an army of highly qualified beat writers, the sports media start-up has no shortage whatsoever of top talent.
How did a start-up site with an unproven business model attract such a top-rate staff? According to the Wall Street Journal, the answer is simple: The Athletic has offered much higher salaries than its competitors, while giving out cuts of subscription revenue and small stakes in the company.
The Athletic, which now has 150 employees, has recruited top talent in markets such as San Francisco and Boston with premium salaries. An editor at a competing company said the Athletic offered his employees between 15% and 36% markups on their six-figure salaries to join the company.
In a departure from most media outlets, the Athletic is asking staffers to use their social-media accounts to promote discounted subscription offers and then giving them a small cut of subscription revenue from their local markets, people familiar with the company’s policies say. Journalists also get a small stake in the firm.
Per the Wall Street Journal, The Athletic currently has more than 100,000 subscribers, who ostensibly pay $5 a month or $60 a year but often actually pay less thanks to frequent deals and discounts. That means annual revenue for the site probably falls around, say, $5 million. Is that enough to cover salary plus benefits for 150 employees? Certainly not. Is it enough to please the investors who have sunk $30 million into the young company? Given how successful The Athletic has been at fundraising and how quickly it has grown, it sure seems so.
Even if The Athletic is not currently profitable — or anywhere that close to it — the site continues to expand like no one else in sports media. On Monday, the same day the WSJ piece published, The Athletic announced at least five new hires, all of whom will cover Big Ten sports: Jesse Temple (Wisconsin), Scott Dochterman (Iowa), Audrey Snyder (Penn State), Cody Stavenhagen (Michigan) and Colton Pouncy (Michigan State). The Athletic’s roster just keeps getting bigger and bigger.