SMG: Who will last longer, ESPN+ or The Athletic?

From Awful Announcing today, an interesting roundtable discussion about which sports subscription service has the best chance of long-term success. The consensus among the writers was that ESPN+ has the best bet.

It’s an interesting question to ponder, so a few thoughts:

Comparing ESPN+, B/RLive, DAZN Live and The Athletic feels a little bit like apples and desk chairs. The Athletic is written sports journalism, the other three are video-based. However, subscriptions are subscriptions, and I don’t think most people differentiate them in their minds. You look at the cost, you look at what’s provided, and make the decision based on what kind of value you get.

It’s the academic in me, but the article doesn’t provide a key thing here — what do we mean by “long-term success”? Are we talking which is the last one in business? Which gets the most subscribers? Which brings in the most money? Which one drives the conversation in sports media? Which has bigger impact with readers? It may seem pedantic, but we can’t pick which company is going to be the long-term success unless we know what that means.

Like the writers at Awful Announcing, I lean toward ESPN+ just because it has all the structural advantages. It certainly has the most potential of any of the services of being paradigm shifting. If we still accept the premise that live sports is keeping people subscribed to cable, anything that potentially changes that could have huge implications on the cable industry. But it’s been slower growth than I had expected it to be, which leads me to believe that while it may last, it may not have a lasting impact.

On the other hand, The Athletic has surprised me. I was a loud doubter of the site for a long time, and those doubts were in large part my reaction to its bravado and its insanely rapid expansion a few years ago. But the site has settled into its place in the online sports journalism landscape, and while it hasn’t shattered daily sports journalism like it promised, the site’s writers are producing consistently strong work. To me, it’s still the most interesting thing happening in sports media.

On the question at hand, I think I agree most with Matt Clapp.

People will pay for good content. The Athletic has big names for every sport in seemingly every city/region now, and in-depth content. They continue to only add here, not subtract.

And building off that point, we already know what we’re getting with The Athletic. There’s certainty that it’s a good service immediately, and there’s no reason to expect that to change too much over the next year and beyond. The other subscription services have promising trends and additions (like B/R Live with The Dan Patrick Show), but just as many question marks, and people want certainty before they commit monthly/annually to a product.