The Athletic UK is here to challenge the way we digest sport content, and perhaps for the better

If you follow the football media industry then you’ll certainly have heard of The Athletic, an American sports website designed to change readers’ current experience of online content consumption.

They’re looking to promote something more insightful, more digestible, and ultimately more premium than what’s currently in the market. It all sounds amazing, although it will come at a price. So, what is The Athletic?

The website, which launched in the United States in 2016, is a subscription-based site that charges readers a monthly or annual fee to enjoy access to some of the finest sports content on offer. This is provided without the irritants of the industry such as pop-up advertising, complicated article structures and the worst of all, clickbait. The site recently launched in the UK, covering Premier League, Champions League and Championship content as well, culminating an Avengers-esque group of elite writers to lead the charge.

The likes of David Ornstein, Jack Pitt-Brooke and James McNicholas are just three of many top football writers to have joined The Athletic, with each writer designated a niche to focus on in their quest to deliver quality content all-round, a ploy which makes the coverage very focussed and very expert-driven. These guys know what they’re talking about.

In June, the website hit more than 500,000 subscribers and expects to double that by the end of the year, according to But how is it doing this considering so much other content is available for free online?

Ed Malyon, Managing Director of The Athletic, wrote a free-to-access piece for the website on the need for their unique service, one which will certainly have been met with some scepticism among fans and regular football readers once subscription fees were thrown around.

In his introductory article he said: “After launching our Premier League coverage from the biggest team of football journalists ever assembled, I believe it to be the best sportswriting outlet on the planet without any shadow of a doubt.”

Malyon later explains: “If you were designing a sports website or app from scratch to be the best it could be for a reader it wouldn’t have aggressive pop-ups or autoplay videos or distracting adverts that dispirit you before you’ve even read the intro. It would be a clean, simple experience like The Athletic’s.

“If you were designing a sports website or app from scratch to be the best it could be for a reader, it wouldn’t feature a homogenous gaggle of miserable graduates sat in offices hammering out rehashed transfer stories from dubious sources. You would have the biggest network of beat reporters in the Premier League, with at least one journalist attached to each club, just like The Athletic’s.

“By adopting a different business model, The Athletic can change what readers expect from sports coverage.”

In fairness, he’s spot on. This is nothing short of what I’d want from my dream sports website. He also references the 2000+ journalism positions that were cut earlier this year, illustrating the need for change. This is an industry I’ve unashamedly spent very little time in, though I myself have noticed it’s not one without its flaws. So without further ado, I subscribed to the site.

So I suppose this is the part where I review the website, tell you what’s great and what’s bad about it. In all honesty, there’s very little to criticise, if at all. I’ve parted with £30-a-year, which I’ve found to be very good value. I’ve enjoyed all my reads, focussing particularly on the writing’s of James McNicholas and Amy Lawrence’s Arsenal coverage, and it’s been delivered wonderfully: content not-too-lengthy, but still with plenty of insight nonetheless (though an extra picture or two wouldn’t go amiss).

The website offers Q&As, access to podcasts, a community to engage with and even fixtures and tables to refer to. Even the finer-tuned aspects are impressive and well-considered: my sensitive eyes struggled to adjust to the bright white screen on my super AMOLED tablet display, but lo and behold you can adjust the text size as well as the article background colour, with a choice of what can only be described as book-paper beige and a solid night-mode black to suit your every need.

So the quality of the content is right up there, and there’s a personalised aspect that comes with it. It will continue to grow and improve, but for what you’re paying, yes, this investment is certainly value for money.

Do I, though, suggest your sole intake of sports writing should lie with this website? No, not at all. Just because this content is on offer, this doesn’t mean it’s the only quality football writing available on the market, and I fear this fact may be forgotten.

In a world of clickbait, adverts and “miserable graduates sat in offices hammering out rehashed transfer stories”, there also exist young, bright and exciting reporters who are starting their journey’s towards becoming the highly-regarded, well-informed superstars of journalism like those The Athletic has so shrewdly snapped up for their own website.

These journalists were maybe once graduates themselves who had to do the sort of work that perhaps didn’t appeal originally, but is all part of the developing process and working your way up the food chain. The Athletic could almost be paralleled to Manchester City. Fantastic at what they do, perhaps the very best, but they’re nothing without their stars, and this raw talent has to grow from somewhere.

So yes, read The Athletic! I genuinely mean that, it’s very good. Perhaps it’s a little feature-heavy, but the it’s still top-notch. However, don’t be turned off by what else is out there, because you might just stumble across a young, unseasoned writer who’s at the early stages of a journey we’ll all follow for the rest of our lives. I maintain this is an exciting time for sports journalism, an industry which continues to reinvent itself. So you’d be naive to question the potential of The Athletic, a project which is admirably seeking to bring great journalism back to its roots.

However, while their intentions are spot on, they’re not the only ones trying to reinvent the game and take sports-writing towards a brighter future, and we shouldn’t forget this.

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