“Our ambition is to be the sports page for the world.” Alex Mather, Co-Founder (The Athletic)

We kept hearing that journalism was dead but The Atlantic had other ideas. With a goal of creating the Netflix of sports writing, their inherent advantage was almost built in from the start. What topic has millions of obsessive fans who are ready, willing and able spend money on anything to get them closer to what they love?

At four years in and with over a million subscribers, The Athletic’s bet on hiring all the best sportswriters had proven to be a winner and they saw an opportunity to go after a new audience—the casual sports fan—that wants free access to scores, stats, and breaking news. Co-Founders Alex and Adam needed help to solve one big question: How can The Athletic start to offer free content to attract and engage a new audience without compromising the integrity of their core paid subscription product?

Research points to relevant and real-time

We spoke with sports fans who told us they wanted thoughtful journalism and real-time breaking news and scores in one place. They loved the in-depth content but struggled to find the latest new like scores, stats, roster changes and key game highlights.

We explored a dozen content types in different visual styles to present timely information and give the fans what they’re looking for. We also overhauled the app navigation making it easy to find news and stats specific to their teams always just a tap away. Follow-up testing sessions validated our hypotheses that presenting new content formats for individual games, major tournaments, and other aspects of sport would literally be yes, game changers.

“We needed a way to attract casual readers and demonstrate the value of subscribing.” – Birju Kadakia, Director of Product Management

The end result became an enhanced mobile product that shares more timely, data-focused content for free without compromising the long-form journalistic integrity and content that long-time subscribers stay and pay for.

And keeping converting free to paying customers top of mind, we mixed in free previews of relevant in-depth content in key moments to demonstrate the value to potential subscribers the value The Athletic has to offer.

The Result

In a follow-up a few weeks after these features launched, The Athletic reported an 5%+ increase in organic SERP and 30% engagement from subscribers with new features.

UPDATE: The Athletic was acquired by the New York Times in January 2022 for $550 million.