There have been many discussions about what awaits The Athletic after its acquisition by The New York Times this past February. Since then, the Times has revealed some of The Athletic’s subscriber numbers and financials in earnings calls, implemented some changes to The Athletic’s policies for staff, and brought publicity. There have also been some notable staff departures since then.
But now there’s an interesting development on the staffing side, with The Athletic set to greatly expand its coverage of women’s sports through an external partnership with Google. Sara Fischer of Axios broke that news on Tuesday:
NEW: @ElAthletic plans to double its coverage of women’s sports through a partnership with Google
— Over the course of the multi-year deal, he hopes to double the number of articles written about women’s sports from around 900 today to around 1,800https://t.co/aGMI4Dv8rl
— Sara Fischer (@sarafischer) November 22, 2022
Here are some more details of fisher’s Axios article on this and accompanying coverage in their Axios Media Trends newsletter:
The Athletic plans to double its coverage of women’s professional sports through a multi-year partnership with Google, its commercial director Seb Tomich told Axios.
Why it matters: Because the readership of The Athletic’s parent company, the New York Times, is fairly split between men and women, the Times’ ability to attract more female readers to The Athletic “is a huge advantage,” Tomich said.
Sports media have traditionally skewed toward men, “but this is something we want to change,” she added.
…Partnering with Google will help build a broader and stronger audience of female sports fans for The Athletic, which in turn “is better business.”
According to Fischer, this will start with The Athletic posting a new wave of job postings for roles focused on women’s sports coverage, starting this week. They intend to focus particularly on the WNBA at first (with not just game coverage, but also commercial coverage on things like endorsements, TV deals, and cultural issues, like how Brittney Griner’s arrest in Russia has impacted the league), but also Watch other sports. They have a project planned starting in January to follow the stars of women’s soccer ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup (which kicks off in Australia and New Zealand in July), and are also looking at other women’s sports verticals in the future.
For Google’s part of all this, the company will support not only written articles, but also podcasts and newsletters focused on women’s sports. They’re going to do that by supporting paid media ads to drive audiences to women’s sports content, and much of that will come on The Athletic and the NYT sites, although some may happen off-platform.
Google has backed various media projects in the past, including the NYT’s push into virtual reality journalism in 2015, but this is a remarkable new level for them. It dovetails with some of the particular interest they’ve shown in supporting women’s sports in the past, including serving as one of ESPN’s partners for Fifty/50 Title IX anniversary content this summer.
This is an interesting general approach on several levels. Much of the discussion about coverage of women’s sports has long centered on debates about the field of dreams “if you build it, they will come” analogy. Those in favor of more widespread coverage of women’s sports have pointed to specific successes of specific investments and approaches, and have also pointed out that broad-based women’s sports coverage may never have been “built” in the best possible way. This particular case is a clear construction of targeted coverage before the actual numbers that would normally lead to that, but it’s being done in a seemingly logical way.
This is a specific audience that Google, the NYT, and The Athletic are eager to serve. There is evidence that some of that audience already exists at the NYT, but not at The Athletic (so it is, at least in part, an attempt to expand the audience internally rather than externally, which has some advantages), and This expansion comes at a time when there’s a lot of interest in women’s basketball, not to mention there’s about to be a lot of interest in women’s soccer.
This is also worth discussing for its contrast to the normal economics discussed in sports, and for its further illustration that it is not always all that is considered. Yes, raw viewer totals, reader totals, and subscriber totals do matter, and the NFL and Super Bowl (the two biggest examples of that) would still be in fine shape in raw numbers, even if their demographic numbers they were terrible (which they certainly aren’t). But there are some audiences that aren’t as prominent at the raw numbers level, but have additional demographic appeal to networks and brands, thanks to their audiences being younger than standard, more gender diverse, or valuable in some way. another way.
We’ve seen it with things like MLS (the most logical first major North American league to reach a major broadcast deal given its young audience), the NHL (which saw big gains in female viewers last season), and even the NFL. streaming versus linear breakdowns. And we’ve seen many business success stories emphasizing women’s sports, whether it’s in the media, bars, NIL deals, or elsewhere. So there’s absolutely a way this women’s sports-focused staff could work for The Athletic. And it certainly helps them to have the backing of Google to do this; It’s much easier to make that kind of hedging bet when there are significant financial resources behind it, especially at a time when you’re under pressure to try to even your balance sheet quickly. So this will definitely lead to a lot of women’s sports coverage on The Athletic. The big question about its long-term viability will be how much response it will get.
[Axios; image from The Athletic’s No Offseason WNBA offseason hub]