The Athletic completed its NFL expansion Monday, hiring away a new group of pro football beat writers from local newspapers, according to sports site Deadspin, which apparently doesn't see the Athletic as a rival.
New Orleans, Indianapolis, Nashville, Washington and Charlotte came on board, with Miami soon to follow. In New Orleans, Larry Holder jumped from the Times-Picayune and will write about the Saints and LSU football. In Charlotte, Observer writer Joe Person joined the Athletic blitzkrieg, while Stephen Holder will write about the Indianapolis Colts. Travis Haney will cover the Nashville Titans.
The subscription site, which recently received a $20 million venture capital investment, also boosted its coverage in several other NFL cities.
The New Orleans announcement comes just days after the Picayune let go veteran columnist Ron Higgins, who's apparently not in the Athletic stable.
Higgins, the son of legendary LSU sports information director Ace Higgins, has a deep knowledge of SEC sports. A Higgins tweet said he was fired for being too old and well-paid. His loss seems a self-inflicted wound for the newpspaer and its NOLA web site.
Earlier this summer, the Atlanta sports-media community was jolted when longtime AJC columnist Jeff Schultz and Braves beat writer David O'Brien jumped to the Athletic, which reportedly pays much bigger salaries than strapped local papers can match.
The site at the time also announced the hiring of Jason Butt to cover the Falcons. (Disclosure: I worked with both Person and Butt early in their careers, Person at the AJC, and Butt when he wrote some freelance stories for me when I was editor of Buckhead Patch).
The Athletic when it launched earlier this year promised to blast sportswriting into a new era, but dampened the enthusiasm of younger subscribers with the hiring of old guard columnists like Rick Reilly, who covers golf, and baseball writer Pete Gammons. It also hired a stable of nationally known stars like college football writer Stewart Mandel and baseball writer Ken Rosenthal. The Athletic might not be your father's sports page, but it sure can seem like your grandfather's.
For millennial and post-millennial sports fans, the site has hired a deep complement of young writers who've shaken ESPN, Sports Illustrated and major newspapers with a series of scoops. While Gammons mixes statistics with old-school nostalgia, the younger baseball writers spin out a dizzying array of metrics. They also talk about pop culture and craft beer.
Whether the Athletic brings another mortal blow to print newspapers could be determined by the football season, and the baseball playoffs.
Here in Atlanta, the AJC is holding its own so far, with longtime columnists Mark Bradley and Steve Hummer doing battle. The AJC hopes they are not like those Japanese soldiers abandoned on remote islands who keep fighting World War II.
The Athletic is also fully covering college football, whose fans are as rabid as the NFL's. Every major SEC school is now covered, and Mandel and other national writers give full attention to Alabama's Crimson Tide, the University of Georgia and Auburn, the conference's favorites to reach the national championship playoffs.
Whether the Athletic's subscription model offers a profitable path for a general news site appears doubtful. A news site will find it tough to match the committed readership of sports fan bases.