The Players’ Tribune video strategy: Off-field authenticity


Larry Sanders is a father, an artist, a writer, a painter, a musician. And sometimes he plays basketball.

That’s how the former NBA player introduced himself in his “Players’ POV” video for The Players’ Tribune, the media startup from ex-baseball star Derek Jeter. Since its launch in October, the new publisher has offered athletes a platform to tell their own stories, accounts from inside and outside the stadium.

“What you won’t see is standard interview formats and the stale postgame Q&As. What you will see is athletes guiding video pieces, either as hosts themselves or behind the camera,” said Ryan Duffy, the company’s director of original video. “When the piece isn’t athlete-led, it will be fan-focused. Sports media has plenty of ‘experts’ spouting out stats and analysis; we won’t be adding to that chorus.”

The Players’ Tribune currently has five video series in production, including a weekly studio show from sports commentator Ben Lyons called “Replay,” a travel show highlighting fan communities across various destinations, and the no-frills video essay show “The Players’ POV.” The company also plans to introduce several short-form series with runtimes between 60 and 90 seconds next month.

The publisher’s first flagship video series, “The Players’ POV,” enables athletes to talk about moments, joys and struggles that matter to them. There are two episodes out now. In Sanders’ episode, the former Milwaukee Bucks player explained why he walked away from the NBA, talking candidly about his struggles with anxiety and depression during his basketball career.

The Players’ Tribune is taking an open distribution strategy. The Sanders video has racked up 673,000 views on YouTube since its Feb. 25 release. The Players’ Tribune also posted the video on its Facebook page, where it has amassed just over 10,000 views. In the prior episode, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson talked about his state of mind since the final play of Super Bowl XLIX. That one has attracted 242,000 YouTube views and 15,000 Facebook views since Feb. 19.

Last month, The Players’ Tribune inked a co-production and distribution deal with AOL, which will help finance some of the publisher’s video content and, after an initial period of exclusivity, syndicate the videos to other publisher partners across its broad distribution network. AOL is interested in co-producing content around particular events, such as league drafts or The World Series, as well as series around the lives of A-list athletes, according to Frank Besterio, AOL’s head of business development and partnerships for video.

“We’ve done deals with the usual suspects around sports, gotten clips and highlights, but we want to present a unique take on sports reporting,” said Besterio. “This is sports content by the athlete, for the fan, which is a unique take that doesn’t really exist today.”

The business model surrounding Players’ Tribune video is a mix of strategic partnerships (like the AOL deal), show sponsorships and advertising revenue. Porsche has signed up as the company’s first advertiser. Right now, Players’ Tribune videos don’t carry advertising.

“We know sports is a remarkably busy landscape, but we strongly believe we’re producing video that stands out, and the market will enthusiastically support that,” said Duffy.

While sports video is typically fraught with challenges from a rights and restrictions perspective, The Players’ Tribune is only minimally affected by those issues, given its focus on athletes and fans outside the arena.

Industry observers are bullish on The Players’ Tribune market opportunity. Peter Csathy, CEO of Manatt Digital Media, a venture capital and media advisory firm that works with The Whistle Sports video network, said that the company’s intimate access to athletes and differentiated content is likely to yield positive results for the publisher and its partners.

“For Jeter and team, they get significant resources to play with in terms of developing content … and they get a big distribution platform,” said Csathy. “In this brave new world there are individuals who become brands, so they have significant social followings that up to now very few have monetized effectively. That’s the opportunity. Those with significant followings — and athletes have significant followings — can reach out directly, engage and monetize.”

Main image courtesy of The Players’ Tribune / Jed Jacobsohn

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