The Athletic’s New Verticals Have Picked Up Some Big Names In Sportswriting

The sports journalism universe hasn’t had an awful lot of good news in 2017. ESPN’s layoffs just prior to the NFL Draft saw more than 100 on-air and online personalities lose their jobs, including a number of the company’s most beloved figures. More recently, Yahoo! and Fox Sports gutted their online writing departments and Vice Sports will be shutting its doors completely.

However, the world of sports media got a little bit bigger this week with the launch of The Athletic’s new verticals covering the Bay Area — chiefly the Warriors — college basketball and college football. The new editor-in-chief of the Bay Area edition, Tim Kawakami, announced his departure from the San Jose Mercury News in early July and explained why he left the newspaper world for a new online venture in his first post on the site.

“This isn’t just a fun little sports adventure without a financial plan. This is The Financial Plan As Reality – money paid directly through subscriptions, funding great journalism – carrying along sportswriting,” wrote Kawakami. “Alex and Adam believe in this and they’ve convinced me of this, whole-heartedly. I was intrigued by The Athletic, but I wasn’t all the way there yet. I wanted to go to The Athletic, but I needed one more shove over the dividing line. And after all those accumulated conversations, and the drip-drip-drip draining away of the newspaper industry… came the big playoff game, the mechanical foul-up, the homes that did not get their paper that morning, the sad knowledge that this would keep happening… and the end of this stage of my career.”

Kawakami isn’t the only one from the San Jose Mercury Times to leave as Warriors beat writer Marcus Thompson leaves for The Athletic as well, giving them two of the most well-respected and tenured reporters in Golden State’s locker room. Joining those two are the likes of Danny Leroux and Dieter Kurtenbach, who was among the recent Fox Sports layoffs. Thompson, like Kawakami, took some time to explain the goals he has for the site and why he thinks they’ll succeed in his first post.

“I hope that in 10 years, 20 years we will look back at a thriving industry producing great sports journalism (and adequately compensating journalists) and remember this time, what we did here in the Bay,” writes Thompson. “I’m hoping now begins the best work of my career. The plan is to take my experience, combine it with the freedom and resources of The Athletic, and mix in even more creativity and ingenuity.”

Along with the aggressive push for big names in the Bay Area, Cleveland, Toronto, and Chicago (the three initial markets for the site), respected writers such as Seth Davis, Stewart Mandel, Dana O’Neil, Max Olson, Sam Vecenie and Chris Vannini will also be heading to the site to cover college football or college basketball nationally underneath either The Athletic’s college football site, The All American, or their college basketball imprint, The Fieldhouse.

Mandel was also a casualty of the Fox Sports layoffs, while Davis was let go by Sports Illustrated earlier in the year. The Athletic is taking a big swing at cracking the code of the subscription sports journalism market, something newspapers have been trying to figure out in the digital age, and will hope to do so with a combination of heavy hitters from the newspaper, magazine, and digital realms.