The Athletic is launched amid a blaze of publicity and now the UK sports journalism industry holds its breath
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
Alex Kay-Jelski – Editor
Charlie Scott – Staff editor
Ed Malyon – UK managing director
Harriet Drudge – Social media manager
James Maw – Staff editor
Kevin Coulson – Staff editor
Laura Williamson – Senior editor