How The Players Tribune Got GoodBrian Moritz, a professor of digital media at SUNY-Oswego

25 Mar How The Players Tribune Got GoodBrian Moritz, a professor of digital media at SUNY-Oswego

It’s not easy creating a media outlet from scratch, and when that media outlet is one that primarily concerns itself with the concerns of professional athletes, well, there is not a great number of people who can relate to that.

Such is the case with The Players Tribune, a magazine/website founded by former New York Yankees great Derek Jeter to provide players a place to deliver their own messages to fans without passing them through traditional media gatekeepers. Just two years old, The Players Tribune began life as exactly the sort of antiseptic PR exercise you might have expected it to be. Yeah, players wrote the articles themselves, but they were boring and they had weird, obscure agendas, and the whole thing looked like it had no real interest in relating to readers who didn’t happen to be professional athletes or agents.

Then came the Patrick O’Sullivan piece.

O’Sullivan is a retired NHL player who wrote starkly about the abuse he got from his father.

That was, for me, the turning point in reassessing what the Players’ Tribune can be,” Brian Moritz, a professor of digital media at SUNY-Oswego, told AdWeek.

That post established a niche. The Players Tribune was a place for personal essays from athletes. For one thing, you can’t really get that anywhere else. It’s unique. But just as importantly, it’s compelling. It is human and authentic, connecting famous athletes to actual readers who can relate deeply to their tales.

The most difficult thing to do in the media business is to be both unique and compelling. It’s easy to be one of the two, but combining both is the difference between a hit and an also-ran.

The writing process often begins with a visit to the New York conference room. Athletes and their handlers sit with the editorial staff and home in on an angle. Later, one of the staffers is assigned to work with the athlete to produce the story. “Then there’s literally a taped conversation,” said Mr. Hoenig, “and the manuscript comes out of that taped conversation. And it’s rearranged and organized and cleaned up, but it’s not changed. We don’t edit or add words.” The promise to contributors is that nothing gets published without prior approval.

And, remarkably, the athletes are coming to them.

On the one hand, this is a story of a deeply pocketed person with tremendous name recognition starting a vanity project for himself and people like him. From that perspective, it’s not particularly impressive.

But on the other, it’s a highly polished celebrity publishing stories that are sharp and human and authentic, and succeeding at it. Not an easy trick to pull off.