A Small Price To Pay

August 1, 2018

Netflix, SiriusXM, HBO, Showtime. I’m used to paying a premium for better, commercial-free content. Yet for some reason, I dismissed the idea of a subscription-based sports website when I first heard of The Athletic a year ago. I just didn’t think they could compel me to pay for something that’s so readily available for free. There’s ESPN.com, Si.com, FoxSports.com, The Ringer and so many other options on the national front. And the local newspaper, to which I already subscribed, had the teams I care about covered.

The Athletic sells itself on the idea of going “beyond the box score with quality, in-depth local and national sports coverage from an all-star team of writers.” Sounds great, but was it possible they could provide something I needed to dig into my wallet to buy?

Turns out the answer is yes.

It started when the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s hockey writer, Michael Russo, left the paper to start a Twin Cities chapter of The Athletic. Russo is the most dialed-in beat reporter I’ve ever followed and he’s done an excellent job of building his profile through social media and with regular appearances on sports radio. The Star Tribune found a capable reporter to cover the Minnesota Wild beat, but it wasn’t the same. I began to feel like I was missing something.

Russo often talked about his decision to join The Athletic and how it gave him a chance to provide a different level of coverage than the traditional newspaper format allowed. Rather than scrambling to submit a game story on deadline, he could write more features and offer more insightful analysis. I was intrigued, but hockey alone wasn’t going to get me.

Then the dominos kept falling. Local Associated Press sports reporter Jon Krawczynski, go-to Timberwolves scribe Britt Robson, St. Paul Pioneer Press Vikings reporter Chad Graff, and more.

One of The Athletic founders caused quite a stir in a 2017 New York Times article by saying they planned to make life difficult for local newspapers by sucking them dry of their best talent. That’s exactly what they were doing. And it turns out it mattered to me.

When The Athletic started to share some articles for free, I took a look and liked what I saw. No ads, clean layout, compelling writing. And it was completely customizable to my tastes. I could choose the teams and sports I care about, both locally and nationally. The website and app are both really slick.

In a time when newsrooms across the country are condensing coverage and cutting jobs, The Athletic is putting a premium on securing the best reporters and storytellers. The 40 percent discount offer on a year-long subscription made it easy to rationalize taking the plunge.

I’m so glad I did. It’s not a replacement for my other go-to outlets, but rather a complement. I don’t need The Athletic to give me box scores and beat reporting. I need them to give me the stories I didn’t even know I wanted. Here are a few examples, unlocked for all to read:

Pick an article and give it a read. You’ll get a sense for the quality immediately. My one-year subscription comes out to $.16 per day. So far, it’s worth every penny.