A little over four years ago, I helped launch The Athletic in Philadelphia because I believed there was a market for premium, subscription-based local sports coverage.
Last Friday I announced that I was leaving The Athletic, with the intention of launching The Daily Six newsletter, because I know that there is a market for premium, subscription-based local sports coverage, and because I believe that this is the place where I can offer the most value to diehard fans of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Before I start diving into why I'm excited to return to the independent subscription model, let's go over a quick rundown of the details.
To get this out of the way, since I'm sure some of you are wondering about it: yes, I am still credentialed to cover the Philadelphia 76ers, and will be doing so full time.
In terms of subscriptions, there are three options. You can get more information about the different options over at the subscription page.
- $24/year (limited time offer).
A few notes on the yearly subscription.
First, this is a heavily discounted "Founding Members" rate, a promo that will run for the next two weeks. After that, the yearly rate for new subscribers is $39/year.
Second, this offer isn't a one-time discount on just the first year, like you're used to seeing with The Athletic, where they'd get you to come in on a 50% off coupon and then charge you the full rate upon renewal. This is a "forever discount", which will renew at $24 every year and a rate that is only available for subscribers who sign up for a yearly plan over these next two weeks.
To put the discount in perspective, if you spent 3 years as a subscriber to The Daily Six, you'd spend a total of $72, compared to $216 for three years of The Athletic, which could be cut down to $180 if you came in on a 50% off discount for the first year. For five years as a subscriber it would be the difference between $120 at The Daily Six and $360 for The Athletic, or $324 with the first year discount.
I want to price the newsletter so I can bring as many of my loyal readers over as possible right from the jump, even that means I wind up leaving some money on the table.
Finally, yearly subscribers can request access to join The Daily Six's members-only Discord server to hang out on. The hope here is that since it's invite-only, and only available to subscribers, it should be relatively easy to keep the conversations civil. I'll also setup announcement-only channels so you can join, say, a channel for injury report updates and get notifications when there's a change in someone's injury status.
Both monthly and yearly subscribers will have access to the full website, including access to the members-only comments section and access to some of the tools that I'll be building out in the coming weeks and months to help make your life as a fan easier.
Currently, these include a salary cap breakdown, a future draft pick tracker, and historical injury reports. I basically just took some of the docs I had been keeping internally, to help me keep my bearings straight while covering the team, and made them publicly available. More will come in the days and weeks ahead, and I'm open to requests as well. If something confuses you, let me know and I'll try to find a way to explain it.
Subscribers will also get full access to all the posts made on the site. Posts will be sent out as mailing list entries as well, and you can decide how you'd prefer to consume them. If you just want to go check the website every now and then for new posts, or come in by clicking on links when I tweet them out, you can unsubscribe from the mailing list. If you want to read everything via email at your leisure and pretend the website doesn't exist, that's fine too. There will be no advertisements, either on the website or in the emails, so how you consume the content doesn't matter to me one bit.
There will also be a newsletter sent out every morning, Monday through Friday, where I sift through all the shit out on the internet so you don't have to, delivering the relevant stuff to your inboxes so you're up to speed on the news and coverage around the team.
At some point over the summer I had fallen down a Youtube rabbit hole, landing on one of the spirited debates that Jon Stewart used to have with Chris Wallace, before stumbling on this line from Stewart.
"What am I at my highest aspiration?"
I don't bring the quote up for any kind of deeper meaning (I'm a sportswriter, for crying out loud) other than to note that it hit me just as I was really starting to think about what I wanted to do when my contract was up in December.
(I've had some people comment about the timing of my departure from The Athletic, noting that the in-season change is odd and wondering whether something had happened. My contract was renegotiated a few years back, which made the new end date in the middle of the season. There's no juicy story or drama to report here, I'm afraid).
It's easy in this field, which has been rapidly contracting for the better part of two decades, to become preoccupied with simply having a job. But if there were ever a time to ask that question and re-evaluate what you want to accomplish, it's when your contract is ending. And as the days and weeks went by, and as I started whispering my thoughts of going independent to some of my closest friends in the industry to see if I was going crazy, Stewart's question was one I couldn't escape.
The more I thought about the question the more obvious the answer became. I had found success in the independent subscription model before, running a Patreon covering the 76ers as my full time back in 2017, before I joined The Athletic later that year. Having complete freedom in how I want to cover the team, the ability to cater unequivocally to the needs of diehard fans and the chance to form a stronger connection with the fan base that has given me this opportunity is something that intrigued me greatly me.
Eventually, it got to a point where I knew if I didn't give it a shot and take this chance I'd come to regret it. I just had to build up the courage to actually go through with it.
So, what kind of reporting do I aspire to do?
My primary goal when I'm writing is to add context to a topic, whatever that may entail. To add detail that will add to your understanding of a situation, to be a resource that will enhance your experience following the team and the sport that you love so much. Stylistically, I have the most interest in explainer-style journalism.
Some longtime readers or listeners to my podcast will know this, but my career before basketball was as a network engineer, devising systems to keep websites online and available. My first experience writing in any kind of a professional capacity wasn't about basketball, but trying to document and explain complex computer systems to business executives and stakeholders who had only a passing knowledge of, and no time to study, computer engineering.
My goal now, as a sportswriter, is similar. Except rather than translating the inner gremlins of routing protocols to business executives I'm taking the decade I've spent learning the Collective Bargaining Agreement, spent being trained as a college basketball scout at DraftExpress, spent diving into and embracing advanced statistics and spent mingling with NBA executives and using that perspective to help feed your (possibly unhealthy) addiction to the Philadelphia 76ers.
If you're a longtime reader of mine, and have already been convinced of the merits of subscription journalism, then you probably have enough information to decide whether you want to subscribe or not. Feel free to skip the rest of this post, as there's a very real chance I could get a bit long-winded here.
The internet has impacted the nature of sports coverage in a number of profound ways, many of them good but some of them not. Two ways in particular are relevant here.
First, the internet has made fans infinitely more knowledgeable about the game that they love. The number of people who have a grasp on the Collective Bargaining Agreement is exponentially higher than it was 20 years ago, and there are way more people who know what a Horns Flare is than at any point in the history of this great sport. More importantly, there are even more fans who want to continue to learn about these topics.
The second major change is that relying on ad revenue for monetization, and relying on social media to generate traffic, has had an impact on the industry. The combination of those two factors can lead to an incentive structure that runs counter to some of the core tenets of journalism, and which can instead encourage clickbait, sensationalism and a shifting power dynamic that can make reporters more beholden to sources than they ever were before.
My goal has always been to avoid those trappings as much as possible, and to grow my audience a bit more organically. I'd rather have fewer followers, but have them believe in me, than have more followers who simply know of me.
My career path has admittedly made that trade-off easier for me to make. Prior to launching my own Patreon back in 2017 I always had income coming in outside of writing, which allowed me to prioritize outlets like Philadelphia magazine that gave me full autonomy over my content. I didn't have to worry about what would happen if I didn't generate enough clicks to justify my existence, because I still had my job as a network engineer to fall back on. Since 2017, when I left my technology job to finally write full time, I have always written for subscription outlets, first with Patreon and then with The Athletic, allowing me to avoid some of those trappings and instead focus almost exclusively on that smaller, more diehard portion of the fan base.
Serving those diehard fans has always been a priority of mine, as they are a segment that is tough to serve on a local level if you're relying on the volume needed for ad revenue.
I believe that this independent newsletter is the right place to continue that journey.
I can already predict the next question to come up, as much of this admittedly sounds almost exactly like what I wrote when we launched The Athletic Philadelphia back in September 2017.
"Find experts in their field, give them the proper incentives, put them around the teams they cover every day, and appeal to the hardcore sports fans who are becoming more educated and savvy than ever before. And work your you-know-what off. Those are my goals as we build out The Athletic Philadelphia."
So why is going independent now the right place for me? There are a couple of reasons. I'll go into more detail below, but the tl;dr is that I think there is a market for what I'm offering, I think this is where I can offer the most value to diehard fans, I'm very interested in trying to build something unique and I'm just dumb enough to give it a shot.
I think The Athletic has done two crucial things.
First, I think they've proven there's a market for premium, subscription-based sports coverage. There may be some people reading this who question that, given how much scrutiny there is about their business model, but I had first-hand access to watch The Athletic Philly take off and I know how many paying customers The Athletic had from the Philly market alone in the first 12 months after our launch. The appetite is there for it.
However, I also think that for some fans The Athletic has become overpriced over the years. Back when I started the price of a subscription was $6 per month or $48 per year. That's grown, substantially, to $8 per month or $72 per year now. That's a spicy meatball.
For some, especially those who can't live without in-depth coverage of every sport or for fans of the Premier League, that price is justified. But I believe that there is a significant number of people who subscribe to The Athletic, or who would want to subscribe to The Athletic if it were more reasonably priced, and are primarily looking for coverage of a specific local market, or perhaps just for a specific team. For many of these people, $72 a year is too rich.
I think The Athletic has both served as a proof of concept for premium, subscription-based journalism, and also created a void for more reasonably priced, leaner coverage with a strictly local focus. I'm going to attempt to fill that segment. In fact, I'm banking my career on it.
The other reason I feel like this is the right home for me is because I think The Athletic has drifted away a bit from where it was when I joined four years ago, and away from the style of coverage I want to do.
When we launched The Athletic Philadelphia, I had a direct role in helping to build out the remaining staff. Rich Hofmann, my longtime podcast partner, was an easy sell to management, not only because he had already established himself as a hell of a basketball writer at PhillyVoice but also because he had an existing relationship with the team he was going to cover and with the audience that he would write for.
My ace in the hole was Mike O'Connor. Mike was a recent college graduate, with almost no following to speak of at the time. I think he had around 200 or so Twitter followers when I started looking to build out our staff back in the summer of 2017. I eventually started promoting his work on Twitter specifically because I knew I wanted to have him on the team, and because I knew the sales pitch would be easier for me to make if he had more of an audience.
I think I got him up to about 800 followers by the time I brought him up as a candidate. Optimistically, you could call that a 4x increase in followers and deem it a success, and technically you would be correct. Realistically, he still had very little of a résumé to justify a spot at an outlet that was almost entirely dependent on Twitter to build its initial subscriber base.
Despite Mike being almost completely unknown in the market at the time, it was obvious to me that he was an incredible basketball mind. Crucially, he had a gift at being able to use video to explain the game in a way that fans at all levels of experience could learn from him. I knew that I wanted him to be on our team to help differentiate our product, and to make our coverage of the Philadelphia 76ers indispensable for diehard fans.
"You know we're selling subscriptions, right?" was something I distinctly remember being asked when I tried to argue for Mike's candidacy, a fair question considering how unknown he was at the time.
"Rich and I will use our reach to bring the subscribers in," was my counter. "Mike will make us unique and help make sure they renew."
The argument worked, and when it came time to launch Mike was on the staff, and he quickly became an integral part of our coverage and an established player in the local scene.
I don't think that argument would work today, though. I don't think they'd hire Mike O'Connor now because his style of writing will never bring in the volume of new subscribers that they're looking for, and that bums me out.
The Athletic has been caught in a perpetual growth mindset, something which isn't necessarily surprising for VC funded startups. It's also a mindset that isn't necessarily bad, either, as it's created a lot of well-paying jobs for reporters in an industry that has been cutting staff for going on two decades.
It's also a business model that promotes incredible feature writing on the national and, crucially, local level, in a way that nobody else in the industry can really afford to focus on. If you're a fan Jason Quick or Jon Krawczynski, The Athletic is absolutely the place that they should be. It's where they can be the best version of themselves.
I still believe in The Athletic's product, which probably isn't the wisest thing for me to say now that I'm competing with them in an attempt to separate the good people of the Delaware Valley from their wallets. It's just not necessarily the kind of writing that I want to focus on or the product that I want to build.
I want to focus my attention on the minutia that only the true degenerates care about. I want the analysis to be the main course, not side dish. I want to hire the next Mike O'Connor.
In fact, I said that in my very first post at The Athletic.
Stop getting into the nitty-gritty of the salary cap, no longer explore advanced statistics, and cut down on video breakdowns to appeal to the widest audience possible? No. I’d rather create my own outlet than scale back my coverage, even if doing so gave me a smaller platform.
To be clear, The Athletic never told me to not write a salary cap explainer, and they never told me to stop focusing on analysis. But the longer that we existed in the market the tougher it became to have those types of articles drive new subscriptions. We saturated that diehard market very early on.
There was an expectation on my end that there would eventually be a shift away from growth and towards subscriber retention, but that shift never came. In fact, it went in the opposite direction. Everything came down to how many new subscribers our own individual articles brought in. Everything came down to finding something juicy enough to hit a home run.
Which, again, isn't by itself good or bad, it just started to veer away from the kind of content that I wanted to create.
As I sat there over the summer thinking about where I wanted to be and what my tolerance of risk was, I saw colleagues turn to the independent model, which had become much more mature in its offerings in the four years since I had left it. Watching TrueHoop and Marc Stein, along with many others outside of the sports media bubble, launch subscription newsletters made it tough for me to get this idea out of my head.
Over time it became increasingly clear that I wanted to refocus my attention to catering towards the diehards I built my career off of, rather than to focus on ways attract an increasingly wide and increasingly casual fan base to read my work.
While the answer became obvious over time, the decision itself was still tough to go through with, not only because going independent is scary and challenging but also because I made a lot of great friends during my nearly half decade at The Athletic. I thanked a few of them the other day on Twitter, leaving out many more who probably deserved to be on that list. Specifically, no longer being on the same team as Rich is tough to get used to, as he has been not only my colleague and my teammate but more importantly a true friend for a very long time now.
But at the end of the day, I wanted this challenge, I wanted to try to build something, and I wanted the freedom to get back to focusing all of my attention on enhancing your experience as a fan of this great sport.
I think this is the right place for me to do just that.