The Athletic comes to town and raids the sports section

While evaporating advertising has decimated newspaper newsrooms around the country, the sports section remains an area where newspapers continue to dominate.

Even sports radio stations have survived only because they’re able to poach newspaper columnists in the Twin Cities, although the almost exclusively maleness and whiteness of the pool remains troubling.

Now, an upstart has moved into the Twin Cities and is presenting a significant threat to the local dailies.

The Athletic, a $40-a-year service (wait for the occasional discount promotions, though) that has operated in six cities in the United States — New York, Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Philadelphia — has now added a seventh: the Twin Cities. It’s also adding other NHL cities, scooping up the top hockey writers in several hockey-crazed cities, following a pattern in which it has been gobbling up local papers’ best analysts.

Today, Michael Russo, the dean of hockey writers in these parts who resigned from the Star Tribune a week ago, announced he’ll be The Athletic’s first Minnesota writer.

My objective remains the same as my previous 22 years covering the NHL: That fans know I’ll work hard and with passion and personality so The Athletic becomes the one-stop shop for all things Wild and hockey news.

But now, I’ll be able to do it without the restraints of a newspaper deadline.

For the first time in my career, I’ll get to actually watch the third period of a hockey game instead of having my head down, pounding the keyboard and missing key happenings because I have to file a story “at the gun.”

I won’t have to constantly look at my watch in the postgame locker room. That should improve the quality of my writing, meaning more analytical postgame columns that’ll provide an inside look rather than “gamers” overrun by play-by-play from a game you’ve already watched.

Trust me, I’ve always considered myself a newspaper man. I started as a paperboy at 11 years old. I grew up in the business, and I’ll always love that medium and the two papers I came from. I’m specifically leaving an incredible paper with unparalleled brand identity, stability, talent and audience size. I’ll always be indebted to the Star Tribune for getting me to where I am today.

The Athletic has been a grand experiment to see if sports fans will pay for quality local sportswriting. They will.

So far, The Athletic has been profitable in only one of its cities, Nieman Lab says: Toronto. But it’s raised nearly $6 million from investors.

It appeals to fans tired of the “old fluff” on the sports pages of newspapers, Bloomberg says.

  • BJ
  • MikeB

    If/when they step up their NBA coverage, beyond GSW, then I most likely will subscribe. Good writing is worth paying for.

    • I fully expect Britt Robson will end up at The Athletic.

      • MikeB

        My wallet is ready for that.

        • Same. Britt is the best.

  • Gary F

    And, if these sportswriters can keep their radio bits, that’s more pub for The Athletic. I’m not sure who actually gets paid when all these sports writers come on radio shows unless the show is their own.

    What’s left? The crossword puzzle and the comics?

    I still get the paper version of the Star Tribune. My wife does the crossword and I use it for masking off stuff before painting.

    • When they’re just weekly guests, they get a stipend, usually, from the radio station. When they’re hosts, they get a paycheck.

    • >> I use it for masking off stuff before painting.<<

      I use the "Villager" and "Southside Pride" for that.

      • Gary F

        I read the Villager before it becomes a painting accessory.

    • Jack

      I get the paper version so I can read the comics. The rest I’ve already read on-line. Plus being a 7 day subscriber I get the digital Washington Post so I figure I’m getting my money’s worth.

      My MPR donation is helping pay for Bob – at least that’s what I tell myself….

  • crystals

    I’ve never heard of The Athletic before this very moment, so they’ve got a fair bit of work to do in the name recognition world. (And I do pay attention to and read sports sites – The Undefeated, Deadspin, and The Ringer are all regular sites for me.) It sounds like poaching Russo is a good start.

    PS to any Athletic staff who might be reading this: You might want to update your dropdown menu label given your new market. Minnesota isn’t a US City.

    • They’d have to change it to St. Paul if it’s just the Wild right now.

      🙂

  • disqus_uRFvBSg0Rt

    “…although the almost exclusively maleness and whiteness of the pool remains troubling.”
    Even in a sports story you can’t get away from these types of comments. Why can’t a story just be a story with facts and no comments?

    • Because it’s not a story and it’s certainly not a “sports story”. It’s a blog where I share my comments. since you just joined Disqus today, it’s probably your first time here.

      Let me take a wild guess: white guy?

      • disqus_uRFvBSg0Rt

        Not even close, but nice try. Your story was first to pop up on a search and I was reading it before I realized where it was from. It became obvious once I started reading it where the story was from though. I guess this is acceptable in a blog, but it is everywhere now and gets old. Why does race and gender have to be forced into every conversation?

        • X.A. Smith

          Race and gender affects every conversation, whether it’s forced or not, and whether it’s discussed or not.

          • disqus_uRFvBSg0Rt

            It shouldn’t and doesn’t in the conversations that most people have.

          • X.A. Smith

            Ammended:

            Even if you are ignorant to it, race and gender affects every conversation, whether it’s forced or not, and whether it’s discussed or not.

          • disqus_uRFvBSg0Rt

            I guess I am just not smart enough to pick up on this eh? If race and gender affect your conversations there is something wrong with you. Just treat all men and women of all races with the respect they deserve.

          • // Just treat all men and women of all races with the respect they deserve.

            Clearly , that doesn’t happen and when it doesn’t that’s usually when conversations take place about it. That’s not a character flaw.

          • disqus_uRFvBSg0Rt

            I think it happens more than everyone thinks. Most people are genuinely good people and we tend to focus on a few bad people and that becomes the conversion like it is all people. Believe it or not because you are a white male, doesn’t mean you are horrible and the cause of all problems!

        • It doesn’t have to be forced into every conversation. Only those where it’s relevant.

          The whiteness and maleness of the sports section columnists is relevant in matters of content when the only perspective is white guys’.

          • disqus_uRFvBSg0Rt

            You are correct. I am a male. Not sure why that matters?

          • Easy. The people who don’t think the maleness and whiteness of a sports section matters are usually people who are male and white.

          • disqus_uRFvBSg0Rt

            I am not sure how a male or female of any race could give a different perspective on how a baseball, hockey, or football game turned out? I guess I don’t worry about whether a man or woman is writing the story as long as it is written well. Did you ever think that not as many females are interested in being sportswriters, just as not as many males are interested in fashion and entertainment?

          • That’s sports writing. Game stories. I’m talking columnists. That’s why that paragraph specifically notes “newspaper columnists.”

            How could a diversity of opinion be enhanced by a more integrated staff? I’ll give you two words: Colin Kaepernick.

            Or, in the case of women, one word (sort of): WNBA

          • Kyle J

            A topic which will not bring enough subscribers to pay the writers salary. . Another bad business decision. I may read that story if I already subscribed No one is going to pay for the Athletic to read woman’s hockey coverage in the US. It’s possible in Canada.

          • Kyle J

            Colin Kaepernick is a piece of s***. If he could help a team win he would be hired. He had a contract which he chose to opt out of Signings him will make your fan base turn against you. It’s just a bad business decision.

          • Kyle J

            Newspapers are the ones typically making these compliants when they are the ones hiring the voices.

  • Karl

    One thing I’d add about The Athletic is that a big part of their pitch is being totally ad-free.

    Also, Russo’s post mentions the site will be adding writers covering the Vikings, Twins, Wolves and college sports. Bob said in the comments he expects Britt Robson to come on board to cover the Wolves, but who would even be considered the top beat writers for the Vikings and Twins? By default I would go with Ben Goessling (recently moved from ESPN.com) and LaVelle Neal III, both at the Strib. Not great for the Star Tribune’s sports section.

    • Gleeman would be a great baseball fit but he’s already got the NBC gig. Parker Hageman might also fit.

      But yeah, the pub poaches sports sections and people who’ve been laid off from ESPN and FoxSports.

  • Kyle J

    Had to bash white males in this 25 word column.