Is Washington a great sports town? That’s a hard argument to make these days. But an array of new outlets is fast making it an impressive sports-media city. There’s the Undefeated, a high-profile ESPN site that covers sports, race, and culture from its Farragut Square office. There’s the Athletic, a national online publication that opened a Washington branch last September with the goal of aggressively covering local teams. And there’s Arlington-based Axios, which in January acquired the popular subscription site Sports Internet to create Axios Sports. (Another new outlet, Sports Capitol, recently came to a premature end after its three founders were hired by NBC Sports Washington.)
In terms of local coverage, the most significant of these is the Athletic DC, which is powered by venture-capital funding and is pursuing a $48-a-year, ad-free subscription model. Its news-and-analysis focus and internetty sensibility make it a higher-metabolism alternative to the Washington Post sports section.
DC was among the last major markets to get an Athletic branch, reportedly because the company tried (and failed) to hire writers away from the Post. But according to managing editor Gregory Lee Jr., the site is especially well suited to Washington. “Not everyone here is a Redskins fan or a Wizards fan or Nationals fan,” he says. “People come from all over the world. When you subscribe to the Athletic DC, you get a subscription to everything. If you live in DC and are an Arizona Cardinals fan, you have access to our Arizona coverage.”
Could the Post sports section be ripe for disruption? In 2017, Athletic cofounder Alex Mather boasted to the New York Times that “we will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing.”
So far, the paper doesn’t seem too concerned. “It was obvious that a site with their ambitions was going to come here eventually,” says Dan Steinberg, who created the Post’s DC Sports Bog and is now an editor for the section. “I don’t think it’s changed a single thing for us. Our mission doesn’t change. Our approach doesn’t change.”
Whatever happens, the improved array of choices is good news for fans. Now if we could just do something about some of our teams.
This article appears in the February 2019 issue of Washingtonian.