How The Athletic Plans to Double Subscribers in 6 Months

The sports startup wants to “zig when everyone else is zagging,” CEO Alex Mather says

The Athletic doesn’t want to slow down.

The ad-free hyper-local subscription sports website just crossed the 500,000 subscriber mark three years after its launch and has plans to double that figure by the start of 2020. (The New York Times, for comparison, leads the market with 4.7 million digital and print subscribers.)

It’s an ambitious goal. But it’s also fitting for a company asking sports fans to pay a premium for coverage of their favorite teams at a time when there’s plenty of competition for commodity game coverage from local newspapers and sports content startups, such as Bleacher Report.

CEO/Co-Founder Alex Mather said The Athletic, based in San Francisco, looks at itself as a tech company that’s “laser-focused” on subscriber growth. To accomplish that, he said, providing quality over quantity is essential — giving readers in-depth analysis and player profiles they won’t find elsewhere in a saturated sports journalism market.

“For us, it comes down to a really simple business model,” Mather said. “We hire just enough people, we pay them really well, we treat them really well, we give them all the tools to do the best work of their career, and everything they do is…

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Sean Burch

Tech reporter • • @seanb44