Minute Media (owner of The Big Lead) has acquired The Players’ Tribune (TPT), an outlet best known for its first-person stories told by athletes. TPT founder Derek Jeter – who will remain involved as a Minute Media (MM) board member – told fans of the site that little would change from a content perspective, that the sale would simply allow the outlet to reach a much wider audience. Financial terms of the deal, which is expected to close before the end of 2019, were not disclosed.
Howie Long-Short: Discussions between The Players Tribune and Minute Media began back in April and strategically speaking, the two companies quickly realized that they were a perfect match; MM could help TPT expand its business globally (it is already publishing 90Min in 13 languages and has people on the ground in all of those markets), while TPT could provide MM with “a [U.S.] sports brand [it] can tell stories with, build video production around and create licensing and originals through.”
Minute Media president Rich Routman understands the difficulty involved with building a brand, which is why he values the foundation that Jeter & Co. have built. “If you look at the sports media landscape over the last five years (MM was founded in ’14), there hasn’t been a [new outlet to come onto the scene] that has been able to generate the [buzz] that TPT has; granted, that’s partially due to the people involved and the stories behind those athletes.” It’s a strong statement – particularly, considering that both Overtime and The Athletic came about during the period – but for all of their fundraising success, neither has generated a piece of content that was as impactful or widely discussed as Kevin Durant’s ‘My Next Chapter’ in June of 2016.
Kevin Love’s ‘Everyone is Going Through Something’ and ‘What the Hell Happened to Darius Miles’ (with Miles and Quentin Richardson) were some of the other TPT stories that went viral during Jeter’s reign, but ultimately the company failed to produce enough headline-making content for it to work as an “always on standalone news operation.” Making the transition to the MM family will allow TPT to eliminate costly duplicate expenditures (think: technology, audience development, monetization and editorial personnel), but a revamped content calendar will also serve the business well. Routman explained that “breaking [stories like Durant, Love and Miles] every day is not possible and it’s also not what the outlet was built for.” So, moving forward, instead of trying to serve as a daily destination, TPT will look to establish a handful of clear franchises or content categories and then publish on a regular cadence around them.
MM is inheriting some technology (from TPT’s Players’ Post acquisition), website traffic (258K unique visitors in September) and some distribution and sponsorship relationships, but it’s the business’ I.P and intangibles – the people and the deep relationships that TPT has with pro athletes – that offer the most upside; “it gives us the ability to take something unique and to globalize it.”
Routman says athlete storytelling is a business that is particularly hard for competitors to replicate because of their existing news operations. “[A company like ESPN or B/R] is going to break the story about Myles Garrett [hitting Rudolph with his helmet] and then spend the next 24 hours talking about how what he did was wrong. To do athlete storytelling the right way and to maintain the trust of the athletes, the publication needs to be on the side of the athlete even during the most controversial of times; and TPT is really the only company set-up to do that.”
It’s fair to wonder how TPT will continue to deliver the biggest stories as more and more athletes publish news directly through their own platforms, but Routman says that it’s not a concern. “There are only a few athletes with the ability to truly deliver scalable platforms on their own. If [more athletes could], there wouldn’t be a business need for the players’ association to speak on behalf of the larger group.”
Digiday recently wrote a story insinuating that TPT was overpaying athletes for the rights to their stories. That’s not the case, though TPT does introduce advertising, sponsorship and original program licensing opportunities to the athlete community.
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