The Athletic, a sports media startup that has lured away prominent beat reporters and national writers to its online news platform, launched a Baltimore-specific page this morning.
Two alums from The Sun who are no doubt familiar to local fans, Jeff Zreibec and Dan Connolly, will stick to their beats covering the Ravens and Orioles, respectively.
Patrick Stevens, a former reporter with The Washington Times, The Washington Post and Syracuse Media Group, will cover the University of Maryland Terrapins.
As the startup has rolled out sites in different cities across the country, groups of fans still waiting on the sidelines clamor for the site to set up shop in their town, said Taylor Patterson, director of communications for The Athletic. That was especially true here.
“Baltimore fans were among the most vocal of that group,” she said.
While the Baltimore site only launched with three writers–for comparison’s sake, the Atlanta site that also launched today has three writers covering the Braves alone–Patterson said that while nobody was “on deck,” the site may look to expand once it is established.
“As we find needs in the market, we’re always seeking out great talent,” she said. “Chances are we’ll see a few more writers in that market at some point.”
Further down the line, they may grow to cover some of our town’s niche sports, like arena soccer’s Baltimore Blast and arena football’s Baltimore Brigade. But for now, Patterson said, The Athletic is focusing on launching verticals in the four major sports leagues and major college sports.
In addition to Atlanta, The Athletic also added a site in the state of Wisconsin today, bringing the company’s total number of markets to 32. Last March the startup received $20 million during a third round of funding to further expand, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“What we’ve learned over the last couple of years is there’s an appetite for high-quality coverage, whether it’s local or national,” one of the site’s co-founders, Alex Mather, told the Journal.
? The Athletic is expanding! Now offering quality, ad-free sports coverage in:
In-depth local sports coverage now available in 32 markets, all included with your subscription. More cities coming soon!
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) July 17, 2018
As many traditional media outlets have been struggling due to declining ad revenue, The Athletic has grown rapidly by offering stories and analysis from well-known reporters and columnists for a subscription fee starting at $8 a month and the promise of no advertising.
For the launch of the Baltimore site, the fee is down to $3.49 a month for the first year–along with a free T-shirt.
Signs of The Athletic‘s arrival started back in early June, when Zreibec announced his departure from The Sun and, tellingly, said he’d still be covering the team.
Some personal news: After 18 years, today is my final day at The Baltimore Sun. It’s been a great run and I’m indebted to so many colleagues, past & present, and of course, my readers & followers. As for what’s next: I’m not going far. Looking forward to saying more when I can.
— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiec) June 1, 2018
Connolly, on the other hand, posted on Twitter just yesterday that he would be turning over BaltimoreBaseball.com, the site he created after taking a buyout from The Sun, to veteran Orioles reporter Rich Dubroff.
So it’s not just Machado who willl be switching jobs in July. It’s happening in the Camden Yards Pressbox also. I’m leaving https://t.co/v7PoaHOEI4 today (for a job to be named later) and @RichDubroffMLB is taking over my site. Most of the details here: https://t.co/hYnaT3l1IT
— Dan Connolly (@danconnolly2016) July 16, 2018
The number of media outlets trying to compete with The Sun‘s sports page on multiple fronts stands at two, the other being PressBox, a monthly newspaper and daily website that’s a partner publication of Baltimore Fishbowl. Before taking over at BaltimoreBaseball.com, Dubroff had been covering the Orioles for PressBox.
John Coulson, a managing partner at PressBox, said contributor Todd Karpovich will finish out the season on the baseball beat, and management will re-evaluate in the offseason.
Coulson welcomed the addition of a new competitor in The Athletic, saying more voices and analysis will drive fan interest.
“There’s tons out there already,” he said. “Having more very high-quality sports writing will accomplish that.”
Every local outlet, and all the national ones, will cover the latest development in the saga surrounding a deal sending Orioles shortstop Manny Machado out of Baltimore. But many won’t craft longer feature stories or cover local college sports and high school sports the way PressBox has in its 13-year history, he said.
“Very few people have done the style of stories that we’re doing on a local basis.”
This story has been updated.