Sport Soccer

Thursday 22 August 2019

The Athletic is launched amid a blaze of publicity and now the UK sports journalism industry holds its breath

The Athletic has vowed to change the face of football journalism in the UK for good, but will it succeed? (Martin Rickett/PA)
The Athletic has vowed to change the face of football journalism in the UK for good, but will it succeed? (Martin Rickett/PA)
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

It has been the talk of sports desks across English newspapers for months and now The Athletic is here.

What is The Athletic, you may ask?

Well, this is the bold venture served up by the American-based sports websites that focuses on 'long-form' articles and promises to give its writers time and space to cover their allocated teams like no-one before them.

This is the website that has hired more than 50 members of staff and lured away established writers from The Guardian, The Telegraph and websites like The Independent and Goal.com, with sizeable wage increases for those ready to jump on The Athletic train.

At a time when journalists are all wondering what happens next in their industry, the arrival of a new face into the English football market has been welcomed by many as this will provide the ultimate test case for the subscription model The Athletic have attached to their product from day one.

At £9.99-a-month or £4.99-month for football lovers willing to pay an annual subscription, those used to getting their football news free and fast on their mobile devices will now be offered the chance to have a service dedicated to their own club if they are willing to pay for it.

Liverpool Echo reporter James Pearce is one of their high profile signings, with Guardian writer Daniel Taylor and BBC reporter David Ornstein among their more eye-catching recruits, yet the test will now come whether football fans who can get their news for free elsewhere will be willing to type their credit card details into a payment page and sign up for a service that has yet to be established in the UK.

The cynics will argue that a full-time West Bromwich Albion correspondent and a dedicated Burnley reporter will struggle to attract the kind of subscriber numbers to justify their position, but The Athletic counter that scepticism by arguing the overall package they are offering ensures their offering if different compared to their rivals.

"Imagine having the time and resource to plan and execute in-depth articles in a world where West Bromwich Albion matter just as much as Manchester United, where the inside story at Burnley is put together with the same passion as the lowdown on the latest managerial change at Chelsea," declares The Athletic's editor-in-chief Alex Kay-Jelski.

"Our writers will do weekly live Q&As, they’ll answer your questions on key issues and they’ve got something really special lined up on transfer deadline day. Most importantly we want to inform and entertain you and tell stories that you’ll love. It’s our passion and we’ll give all our time, energy and ideas to make that happen."

The Athletic website in America claims to have more than 500,000 active subscribers following a similar model and while there appears to have been a little more appetite for subscription sporting content across the pond than in the UK so far, the 8p-a-day price point may well be low enough to attract an audience that could allow them to overcome their doubters and build a successful brand.

Yet one glaring difference between American and UK sports journalism is the access granted to star names and coaching staff by US sports teams is very different to the closed shop operations being run by most Premier League clubs now, with the idea that they will change their approach and embrace a US-run website they will see as a rival to their club's in-house media output a fanciful dream.

Many traditional football journalists in England have been quick to dismiss The Athletic as an indulgence that will only embraced by the small band of football hipsters who revel in the kind of analysis they will now get for £4.99 a month, but we are about to discover whether journalists hailed by their employers as the best in the business are commodities the sporting public are willing to pay for.

The media industry in the UK and Ireland will be watching this story with keen interest over the course of this upcoming football season.

Writers recruited by The Athletic:

Adam Leventhal – Watford

Amy Lawrence – Arsenal

Andy Naylor – Brighton and Hove Albion

Andy Jones – Burnley

Andy Mitten – Manchester United

Carl Anka – Southampton

Charlie Eccleshare – Tottenham Hotspur

Chris Waugh – Newcastle United

Gregg Evans – Aston Villa

Greg O’Keeffe – Everton

James McNicholas – Arsenal

James Pearce – Liverpool

Jordan Campbell – Rangers

Kieran Devlin – Celtic

Laurie Whitwell – Manchester United

Liam Twomey – Chelsea

Matt Woosnam – Crystal Palace

Michael Bailey – Norwich City

Nancy Frostick – Sheffield Wednesday

Patrick Boyland – Everton

Paul Taylor – Nottingham Forrest

Peter Rutzler – AFC Bournemouth

Phil Hay – Leeds United

Richard Sutcliffe – Sheffield United

Rob Tanner – Leicester City

Roshane Thomas – West Ham United

Ryan Conway – Derby County

Sam Lee – Manchester City

Simon Hughes – Liverpool

Steve Madeley – West Bromwich Albion

Tim Spiers – Wolverhampton Wonders

Rafa Honigstein – German Bundesliga

Kieran Theivam – Women’s football

David Ornstein – News/video/transfers

Danny Taylor – League-wide reporter

Jack Pitt Brooke – League-wide reporter

Oliver Kay -League-wide reporter

Michael Cox – Tactical analysis

Jack Lang – Features

Michael Walker – Features

Adam Crafton – Features

George Caulkin – Staff writer

Dom Fifield – Staff writer

Stuart James – Staff writer

Editors and staff

Adam Hurrey

Alex Kay-Jelski – Editor

Charlie Scott – Staff editor

David Jordan

Ed Malyon – UK managing director

Hannah Widdis

Harriet Drudge – Social media manager

James Maw – Staff editor

Kevin Coulson – Staff editor

Laura Williamson – Senior editor

Neil Rowlands

Sarah Shephard

Daniel Barnes

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