‘Fall in love with the sports page again,’ says The Athletic, a subscription-only digital sports news startup. Determined to bring quality, in-depth sports coverage back to sports fans, The Athletic has raised another $20 million to continue its expansion, reports The Wall Street Journal. The Athletic’s third funding round was led by Evolution Media. Prior to this round, The Athletic raised $10 million in two previous funding rounds led by Courtside Ventures.
The Athletic initially launched in 2016 in Chicago and Toronto, covering local sports for superfans in two major markets. Since then, The Athletic has grown to 23 markets across the U.S. and Canada. The sports site’s latest market additions include Arizona and Kansas City who join Dallas, Detroit, Kansas City, New York, Philadelphia and Houston in the U.S. and Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto in Canada.
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The funding will be used to expand the sports news site across the country with the goal of providing coverage in every U.S. market that has a professional sports team by the end of 2018 – approximately 45 total markets. Boston and Los Angeles are among the markets being considered. The Athletic may also cover soccer in the U.S., Mexico and the U.K., reports The Journal. To do so, The Athletic will need to grow its staff. It currently has 120 employees, but staffing could grow to between 200 and 350 with the coming expansion.
In The Journal article, co-founder and chief executive Alex Mather said The Athletic has subscribers in the six-figure range, but he wouldn’t be more specific. One of the company’s earliest markets – Chicago – has more than 25,000 subscribers and is already profitable. Other markets are still in the red. To date, the news outlet has a 90 percent retention rate among annual subscribers.
‘What we’ve learned over the last couple of years is there’s an appetite for high-quality coverage, whether it’s local or national,’ Mather told The Journal.
After a free, seven-day trial, The Athletic is $8 a month, or $48 a year, a 20 percent savings off the monthly price. Gift plans are available for six months, one year and two years. Student plans are available for $30 a year. In addition to unlimited access to TheAthletic.com, the site has a customizable mobile app.
At this time, the site is free of advertising, but Mather told The Journal the company is exploring event sponsorships, podcasts and TV syndication deals, but nothing has been solidified yet.
Why is The Athletic so popular? Because the site is focused on quality journalism, and it is convincing top talent to join the team, including sportswriter Andrew Baggarly. He tells readers why he made the move in a December 2017 column for The Athetlic:
‘If you happened to scan Tim Kawakami’s interview with me in November, or if you’re already a subscriber, then you know all the reasons why I am excited about this move. Our coverage is focused on you, the reader. It’s designed to give you the kind of carefully reported and responsibly curated stories that matter most to you. We’re not here to dupe you into cheap clicks or assault you with auto-play videos and pop-up ads. We’re not going to hustle up a two-paragraph piece when the story is still developing. Get ready for a clean, complete and enjoyable reading experience,’ Baggarly said.
We love everything that The Athletic stands for – quality journalism, a focus on the reader and the reading experience, and an affordable subscription model that supports the organization. The Athletic’s founders started with an idea, and using the subscription model, they built upon it, one market and one subscriber at a time. Two years in, they’re continuing to grow and seeing a lot of support from investors and readers alike. In a day of clickbait and stories being published before they’re ready, The Athletic provides a refreshing return to quality and in-depth coverage. Bravo!