Jun 1, 2019; Stockholm, Sweden; Alexander Gustafsson (red gloves) fights Anthony Smith (blue gloves) at Ericsson Globe. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

A week and a half after making The Athletic: Motorsports a thing and two weeks after expanding its WNBA coverage to every team in the league, The Athletic launched MMA coverage on Monday morning.

The staff carries a ridiculous amount of cache among MMA fans, too.

I typically don’t feel the need to run down the CVs of every writer The Athletic hires, since many of them all already well known, but I feel like it’s necessary to emphasize just how stacked this initial lineup is.

  • Managing editor Dann Stupp previously held the same role at MMA Junkie.
  • Chuck Mindenhall has written for both MMA Fighting and The Ringer for years.
  • Shaheen Al-Shatti wrote for MMA Fighting for quite a long time and was with Vox Media as a whole for nearly a decade.
  • Josh Gross has written abut MMA before MMA was really a thing, including at Sherdog and Sports Illustrated.
  • Fernanda Prates also wrote for MMA Junkie and internationally in Brazil.
  • Ben Fowlkes has written for MMA Junkie and USA Today among other outlets.
  • Chad Dundas has written for ESPN and Bleacher Report, among other outlets.

Fowlkes and Dundas, who co-host the wildly popular Co-Main Event Podcast (with a Patreon attached to it as well), announced to their Patreon subscribers this morning that the podcast would remain independent. In his introductory column, Gross said that his Gross Point Blank podcast would be folded under The Athletic’s umbrella.

In their introductory posts, both Stupp and Fowlkes were critical of the current MMA media landscape.

First, here’s Stupp.

Additionally, mainstream media companies launched or gobbled up MMA sites, and to squeeze out as much revenue as possible, clicks and page views became the metrics that mattered most. Thus, salacious headlines, recaps of social-media spats, aggregation, out-of-context quotes and provocative photo galleries became the norm. For the folks who just wanted to cover MMA and tell amazing stories, it’s often been a demoralizing experience.

And Fowlkes.

But there’s a lot about the MMA beat that’s changed in the last few years. You’ve noticed it. It’s happened across the entire media industry. The stories have gotten shorter, shallower. Many have operated on the premise that what you really need from MMA journalists is someone to read social media for you and then hit you with the highlights.

I don’t mean to criticize. (Well, not too much.) I get how and why it happens. When you’ve got to feed the click monster every day, you go with what works. Why write one Conor McGregor story with all the relevant info in one place when you can get more click mileage out of breaking it into three separate chunks?

The other new staffers expressed similar sentiments, along with a desire to write longer form, more in-depth stories instead of focusing on the social media sensationalism of the week.

However, while this is clearly a positive development for the MMA journalism landscape as a whole, it’s demanding even more cash from MMA fans. This fanbase has been expected to purchase pay-per-view events since the sport became a thing more than 25 years ago, but events on cable TV are becoming more and more scarce. The UFC has thrown a number of its events behind the ESPN+ paywall, and ESPN+ is now the company’s exclusive PPV provider. More Bellator events are on DAZN than are on Paramount Network. The PFL has also jumped behind the ESPN+ paywall. UFC Fight Pass, where a number of promotions stream and archive their events, still exists and costs twice as much as ESPN+. Between ESPN+, DAZN, and Fight Pass, MMA fans are looking at around $35 a month – and that doesn’t take the purchase of UFC PPV events into account.

Now, they’re also expected to shell out for an Athletic subscription for high quality MMA coverage. This isn’t some kind of MMA-exclusive deal breaker; there’s plenty of other “stuff” that comes with an Athletic subscription instead of just MMA coverage. But when a fanbase is expected to shell out money every month, nickel and diming them just a little bit more every month probably isn’t going to go over well, no matter how high quality the content is. Subscription fatigue is a real life thing, and MMA fans have been teetering on the brink for the last year-plus.

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.