The Players’ Tribune, the startup that’s supposed to deliver sports stories from the perspectives of star athletes, has a new boss, and new ambitions: It wants to make real money.
The publisher has hired digital media veteran Jeff Levick as its first-ever CEO. Levick, who has a long history helping digital companies sell ads and generate revenue, is charged with generating more money for Players’ Tribune, and new strategies to make it. Those include creating a subscription product for the free site and expanding it internationally.
Levick, who will start in September, has been an entrepreneur-in-residence at Greylock since January. Prior to that he spent five years heading up revenue at Spotify, which did more than $3 billion last year. His resume also includes sales/revenue runs at AOL and Google.
Up until now, Players’ Tribune has been run by co-founder Jaymee Messler, who has concentrated on building up the company’s editorial operations; she’ll keep her title and role as president.
Levick’s hire “hasn’t been about how do we change what’s been done,” she said. “It’s how do we scale what’s already been successful.”
Messler’s co-founder is Yankees great Derek Jeter, who conceived of the idea of building up a sports site that let athletes talk directly to fans. After launching in 2014 with Jeter and a couple dozen other stars offering stories, the company now has 1,500 athletes contributing pieces.
That’s an interesting idea, which places Players’ Tribune somewhere in the middle of the sports publishing continuum. It doesn’t have the status, and overhead, of Sports Illustrated and ESPN, but it’s also not as free-wheeling as Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, which have become go-to outlets for sports stars who want to pop-off in the moment.
Instead, Players’ Tribune presents itself as the place where athletes can say something in a controlled environment, in their own voices (helped by the Players’ Tribunes’ in-house editorial staff). It’s best-known as the place where stars like Kevin Durant make Big Statements, like announcing his move from Oklahoma to the Golden State Warriors last year; yesterday former NFL star Warren Sapp said he’s losing his memory and suffering other long-term effects from concussions, and will donate his brain to medical research.
Right now that’s been enough to generate a monthly audience of up to five million visitors a month and a modest business selling branded content; that was enough to let the company raise $40 million earlier this year and $58 million to date.
Levick’s job is to build up Players’ Tribunes’ reach and ad operations. He’s also going to help the company expand outside of the U.S. and create a subscription business. He says plans for a paid service are still in the early stages, but will involve more access to jocks: “One thing we’ve realized by working with the athletes, is they have incredible stories to tell, and we’ve just begun to tell them.”