The Athletic homepage on March 19, 2020.

The shutdown of most sports over the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has also led to plenty of changes from sports media companies, from ESPN offering versions of their afternoon shows with panelists each at their own homes to Fox suspending production on most of its daily studio shows (before bringing back The Herd and a modified and shortened Undisputed Wednesday). But beyond shifting employees to working remotely, there are questions about what content those employees can cover in a world without many currently ongoing sports and how many readers/listeners/viewers will be interested in that content. The Athletic’s approach here is perhaps particularly worth watching, as they’re a sports-only company (and one that just finished another big funding round in January) rather than part of a larger company where people can be shifted out of sports if needed. And their latest move is offering a free 90-day trial for new users:

What exactly is there to read on The Athletic during a sports shutdown? Well,  chief content officer Paul Fichtenbaum wrote a note to subscribers Monday that their writers will get “as creative as possible to find interesting angles and ideas,” and they’ve done some of that so far, from attempting to replicate the Astros’ “Codebreaker” sign-stealing program to ranking the best uniforms in Bay Area sports history.  They’re also covering the COVID-19 outbreak and its ongoing effects on sports on a dedicated page, and they’re continuing with coverage of the sports moves that are happening (such as NFL free agency).

Offering this extended free trial (the site usually only offers a seven-day free trial) now seems to make a fair bit of sense for The Athletic. There are a lot of potential readers (and listeners to their podcasts) out there with more time than usual on their hands thanks to the shutdown of much of everyday life, and this might get those potential subscribers to at least check out what The Athletic has to offer. We’ll see if it pays off for them.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.