Back in February, Washington, D.C.-based sportswriters Todd Dybas, Ben Standig, and Brian McNally teamed up to launch The Sports Capitol, an independent subscription-based site covering D.C. sports. That was before The Athletic launched in D.C. early last month, and now, The Sports Capitol is going dormant, with all of its writers moving over to NBC Sports Washington.
They told Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post the move is more about a new opportunity than about their site not working out:
“Let’s be honest: This is the only kind of offer that really gets us to abandon the project,” McNally said. “We gave it a great shot, and it led to a really good opportunity.”
“Our original mission was to do good work, and we thought people would pay for it and it would be well-received,” Dybas said. “And those things came true, and this was an outcome of that.”
…“We may have lost to The Athletic anyways; they’ve got millions and millions of dollars, and we’ve got gumption,” Standig said. “I still believe the idea itself is good, and with a couple of twists and turns and tweaks, I think things could have worked out for the long haul. For me, this isn’t ending because it had to end; it’s ending because this opportunity came up and I did the math.”
Here’s more from a farewell post McNally wrote at The Sports Capitol:
The support from local sports fans has been tremendous and sincerely we hope we’ve lived up to that promise. This site was a labor of love for us and intended to be another option for local sports fans. But recently job offers have come our way from NBC Sports Washington as a result of our work here, and we can’t in good conscience pass them up. The three of us will be joining NBCSW. The Sports Capitol will shut down effective today. All you members: keep an eye out for refunds coming your way.
…There is, of course, some sadness at leaving a project that was so dear to us. We believe in this model of journalism. We still think it is necessary to ensure there are enough outlets to create thriving competition in the market. That makes all of us better writers and reporters and gives our audience more choices. For us, a golden opportunity we could not have foreseen happened to come our way.
Steinberg’s piece mentions that September was the highest-trafficked month for The Sports Capitol, so this isn’t necessarily a clear story of The Athletic coming in and an independent competitor going away as a direct result. Another factor here is NBC Sports Washington scaling up its coverage as part of the general growth at NBC Sports Regional Networks, which launched their own app earlier this month and have said that app will have lots of written, audio and video coverage of teams in addition to games. That’s led to hires like Tom Haberstroh (as a NBA insider across the NBC regional networks), and it seems it’s leading to some regional networks scaling up their coverage as well.
Standig is going to join Chase Hughes on Wizards coverage at NBC Sports Washington, while McNally will join JJ Regan on Capitals coverage and Dybas will cover the Nationals. They’ll also all help cover the Redskins and other local sports as needed. As Steinberg notes, it’s particularly interesting to see the network hiring a Nationals writer; much of their past coverage has been on the Capitals, Wizards and Redskins, and they’re partly owned by Monumental Sports (owner of the Capitals and Wizards) and have a financial arrangement with the Redskins. But NBC Sports Washington general manager Damon Phillips told Steinberg he “wanted to make sure that we had a high level of content across all the teams in the market.”
So it seemingly makes sense for NBC Sports Washington to scale up a bit, especially with this new app focus, and it seems to also make some sense for the writers to leave their independent project; this also should let them focus just on writing, not on technical support or selling subscriptions. Whether or not it could have worked for them to keep The Sports Capitol going for years and years is debatable; there are still some independent subscription sites out there, some city–specific, some team-specific, and some from individual writers, and Standig was certainly optimistic in his comments to Steinberg that “things could have worked out for the long haul,” but it’s a very challenging environment out there.
That’s perhaps especially true with The Athletic now in town and competing for subscriber dollars (and able to offer a whole lot of national coverage as well for a lower price). Sure, it sounds like things were going okay for The Sports Capitol in September, but would that hold up over the long run given The Athletic’s prominence and their budget? We’ll never know now. But there does seem to be some logic to these writers leaving their independent project at this point, and there’s some logic to NBC Sports Washington bringing them in to help bolster their local content. It’s the end of an era in D.C. sports content, but one that seems to have worked out okay for those involved.