On Monday morning, Paul Fichtenbaum, the chief content officer of The Athletic, revealed just what the hell the company is going to do for content with live sports shut down in nearly all markets across the globe.
Fichtenbaum essentially said that the company is trying to move forward with its work as usual, and is brainstorming unique ideas (as many sports media outlets, including this one, are) to keep readers engaged. Notably, Fichtenbaum says the company is likely going to be rolling out more long-form articles and features rather than reactions to news, given that there isn’t any news related to live game action.
What else can you expect from us? As a community-based subscription site that is deeply connected to its audience, The Athletic considers your voice vitally important to us, and we’ve been listening. Even before the recent news, you told us that we are not only here to inform you but also to entertain and provide an escape from the day-to-day. We will continue to deliver.
Our writers will get as creative as possible to find interesting angles and ideas. Internally, we’ve started a #lets-get-weird Slack channel for our 500-plus employees to contribute inventive ideas to keep you engaged, amused, informed and, of course, part of the daily conversation on our site. We will also continue to tell stories via audio through our vast local and national network, which has more than 150 ongoing podcasts.
Many parts of the sports world are still moving ahead, though. Over the weekend, the NFL players voted to approve a new collective bargaining agreement that will provide labor peace for an additional 11 years. The league’s official start to free agency begins on Wednesday, and then there’s the draft next month. Other sports – Major League Baseball, the NBA, WNBA, and NHL – have similar milestones upcoming. You’ll get our usual thoughtful and voluminous coverage of those big moments. In addition, we are unwavering in our commitment to bring the best storytelling to the sports world, and now we will focus even further on that promise. Expect more features and long-form, as well as our usual steady cadence of deeply informed local and national stories that bring depth and insight into the players, teams and sports you are most passionate about.
On Twitter this morning, The Athletic also revealed that it had asked its writers to choose their favorite article they’ve written for the site, and would be unlocking all of those articles (but only for the next two days).
You can count on our newsroom – comprised of the best sportswriters in the world – to continue to tell incredible stories.
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) March 16, 2020
However, Fichtenbaum didn’t address the elephant in the room that many of The Athletic’s subscribers are focused on – potentially extending/refunding prorated portions of the year-long subscription that many of The Athletic’s subscribers signed up for. It’s a tough situation – subscribers are still getting content, and there’s an archive of evergreen content they still have access to, but with no live games, they’re not getting the timely reviews, interviews, and analysis that they’re expecting. It’s the same situation with ESPN+ – yeah, there’s no live content (except for the UFC, for now), but you’re still getting archived, evergreen content (30 for 30 library, etc).
I think it could be a great act of goodwill on The Athletic’s part to tack on a month or two (or even three) to existing subscriptions. How many new subscribers is The Athletic going to attract during the live sports shutdown? How many subscribers whose subscriptions are expiring during the shutdown will renew? Good for The Athletic for unlocking some stories and pushing forward with their coverage, but I feel like they’re missing an opportunity to show some goodwill to subscribers during a tough time.