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Regional journalists offered ‘double their salaries’ to join US sports website

Regional sports journalists have been offered double their current pay to join a new subscription-based football website, it has been claimed.

The i has reported “amazing” salaries have been offered to potential recruits by US-based sports website The Athletic, which is launching a UK version in time for the start of the new Premier League football season.

HTFP has previously reported how a clutch of sports journalists currently working on regional dailies have left their roles this summer to take up new posts with the site.

They include the Liverpool Echo’s Liverpool FC reporter James Pearce, Yorkshire Evening Post Leeds United writer Phil Hay and Express & Star Wolverhampton Wanderers correspondent Tim Spiers.

The Chicago news page on The Athletic's US website

The Chicago news page on The Athletic’s US website

The Leicester Mercury’s Leicester City reporter Rob Tanner, Birmingham Mail Aston Villa reporter Gregg Evans and The Argus Brighton and Hove Albion reporter Andy Naylor are also expected to join the project, having announced their departures while tweeting that they would continue to cover their respective clubs.

HTFP understands that one of the regional recruits to The Athletic has gone from a salary of £37,000 to £74,000.

One unnamed newspaper executive, who says he has been “forced to make counter offers to retain staff”, told the i: “The offers have been amazing: massive double-your-money salaries with sign-on bonuses of 10 grand and equity in the company, the works.”

An unnamed writer who has been approached by The Athletic told the i: “It’s the biggest shake-up in sports journalism since the digital era. There has probably been more movement in the last four months than in the last 15 years.”

It has been claimed the 55-strong UK team could amount to an annual cost of around £4m, which would equate to 100,000 subscriptions.

The i says the recruitment drive is being overseen by former Independent sports editor Ed Malyon, based at The Athletic’s headquarters in Chicago.

According to the newspaper, the newly-recruited British writers will shortly be heading to the US for training.

A spokesperson for the Sports Journalists’ Association told HTFP: “It’s a development which we are watching with great interest and we wish it all the best.”

HTFP has approached The Athletic for a comment on the i’s claims.

A spokesman previously said: “At this time, I can tell you that we are building a line-up of the most talented and connected football journalists across the UK but we will wait to unveil the team until we launch.”

12 comments

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  • July 23, 2019 at 1:09 pm
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    I am sure The Athletic will be happy to see more news along these lines – it smacks of a football agent placing stories to benefit their client ahead of a lucrative move. The Premier League season starts in 17 days’ time and The Athletic perhaps still has a few big, and not-so-big, clubs to arrange how to cover. Nothing like getting a big carrot out…

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  • July 23, 2019 at 1:40 pm
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    The Athletic will have to sign up an enormous number of subscribers even to break even. When the Sun could not make a success of its paywall, what hope has the Athletic? It makes me wonder if they fully researched the UK market, or merely think that if they throw enough money at it, the site is sure to be a success.

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  • July 23, 2019 at 3:11 pm
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    This doesn’t sound sustainable to me…I get lots of my football content now directly from my local club who have a really good media operation – think the days of the pundit might be over.

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  • July 23, 2019 at 4:32 pm
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    Apart from the money, I wonder if sports hacks are going for this purely because they are so sick of their present employers. It seems a risk.
    The firms get the hacks off their pay roll. I wonder if they will get copy from this outfit, from the very same reporters who once worked for them?

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  • July 24, 2019 at 9:58 am
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    @Webmonkey

    I think you’re right there. At the end of the day (arf!) we’re all football commentators now. There’s blogs and podcasts aplenty out there, so why would anyone really care these days what some bloke with glasses at the Daily Star thinks?

    @paperboy

    I think you’re right. A lot of newspapers don’t send people to games any more, they let them watch the game on TV, surely that was the whole point of being a sports reporter?

    Good luck to them I say, we’ve all got a vested interest in this type of model working. Quality publications, well-written, being bought and paid for, with jounos getting paid decent wedge for their trouble. What a wonderful world that would be.

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  • July 24, 2019 at 10:12 am
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    This has to be seen as hugely exciting for sports journalism in the UK.

    There is, without question, the hunger from fans for independent coverage of their clubs – to a level they are willing to pay – as long as the quality is there.

    If you look at the models employed by the likes of the Anfield Wrap, they mix a blend of excellent, authentic content that resonates with fans – to the extent they will put their hands in their pockets for their top-end content.

    Those not charging for content should not be blaming an audience culture, they need to look at their output.

    The Athletic has done a great job so far in recruiting some of the most well-connected writers around, and if their US content is anything to go by the reported four quid a month will be a snip.

    As for those naysayers who question the business model, I can’t imagine there is a profit planned for year one, or even year two. Let them get established in the market and see where is goes from there. There is clearly some good early investment, so that can only be a good thing to give it every chance of flourishing.

    Funny how for so long people have wanted journalism to be be paid for online, then when someone comes along with a bold plan that really shakes things up there are question marks.

    I wish them every success.

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  • July 26, 2019 at 11:00 am
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    KERCHING! The English Premier League has global appeal. If the Athletic is marketed in a way that builds a global subscriber base the potential is enormous. (Think of the potential of China and the Far East as well as the US).
    They have recruited guys who are experts in their field (not ten a penny bedroom bloggers) who can give subscribers an enhanced multi-media experience in terms of coverage, comment analysis, opinion, insight news/ breaking news –
    Worth forking out a few quid a month for if you breathe black and white/yellow and green/red etc I would have thought. After all there’s not much change (if any) out of a fiver for a matchday programme.
    I really can see this taking off and it’s great to see some innovation.
    Why didn’t the regionals club together and launch something like this themselves years ago (lack of foresight? Fear?)
    As for those who have been signed – well why would you turn down double your money plus a signing on fee after years of low pay/ no pay rises and ever-increasing workloads? Even if it goes belly up in two years you are still quids in. It’s a shot to nothing folks.
    Good luck to these pioneers.

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  • July 26, 2019 at 12:35 pm
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    @archantlifer – it’s interesting that no-one from Archant has jumped ship yet; unless, of course, The Athletic expects Norwich City to be in the Premier League for only one season.

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  • July 26, 2019 at 3:29 pm
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    One time sub
    All I would say is….watch this space!!

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  • July 26, 2019 at 5:09 pm
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    @ archantlifer – I shall. There is definitely one name which has been mentioned on the grapevine.

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  • July 29, 2019 at 4:12 pm
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    So now the long-serving Michael Bailey has left Archant. Presumably The Athletic is saving up another group of names before making any official announcement.

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