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AdWeek: The Players’ Tribune Expands To Japan, Eyeing Its Untapped Sports Market

The following is an article that originally appeared on AdWeek.

by Mark Stenberg

While sports have not yet returned to their pre-pandemic normal, the media that cover them are making plans for the day they do.

The Players’ Tribune, the athlete storytelling platform founded by Derek Jeter in 2014 and acquired by Minute Media in 2019, announced its expansion into the Japanese market Wednesday morning.

Although the news comes just months before the launch of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Minute Media chief executive Asaf Peled said that the timing of the launch is unrelated. Instead, Minute Media, which already has a presence in Japan, wants to capitalize on the size of the Japanese appetite for sports media, which is the third-largest in the world.

“Athletes played a key role in spreading important social messages in 2020,” Peled said. “We want to ensure that they have the access they need to continue sharing those critical messages.”

Despite the sports hiatus prompted by the pandemic, The Players’ Tribune swelled in reach over the last year, thanks to both athletes and fans having more leisure time and fewer sporting events to consume. The audience for content from across Minute Media’s six brands grew 48% in 2020, according to a company spokesperson. Globally, Minute Media brands reach 300 million monthly users through their editorial and video content, about 150 million of which comes from its U.S. audience, Peled said.

In its expansion into Japan, The Players’ Tribune will gauge success based on the number of athletes it can recruit to write for the publication, rather than by establishing traffic benchmarks. The publication hopes to enlist “dozens” of athlete-writers by its second month to contribute content, at which point traffic tends to reach a “critical mass.” Once the athletes are on the platform, their audiences follow suit.

As part of its Japanese launch, the publication announced a new crop of writer-athletes, including F1-driver Yuki Tsunoda, soccer-star Mana Iwabuchi, NBA-rookie Yuta Watanabe Will. The Players’ Tribune launched a separate landing page for its new Japanese content, which will feature original writing and newly translated archival pieces.

Through advertising and licensed content, the publication’s two primary revenue streams, The Players’ Tribune generates between $15 million-$20 million in revenue annually. The publication declined to name a specific number, but according to Peled, the figure lies on the higher side of that range.

Advertisers have gravitated toward the brand thanks to the aura of authenticity it draws from the athletes’ direct involvement in the content, said Jeremy Carey, the managing director of Omnicom’s sports media and marketing division.

“The production and ultimate curation of content for The Players’ Tribune is defined by this commitment to authenticity, and that offers a unique opportunity for brands activating within their content,” Carey said.

Minute Media itself generates a nine-digit annual revenue, and its business grew by more than 80% last year, the chief executive told Forbes. Since 2019, the company has acquired four brands, including FanSided, The Big Lead, Mental Floss and The Players’ Tribune. It is actively seeking new acquisitions, according to Peled.

The publication does not compensate athletes for their contributions in most cases, with exceptions for commercial arrangements. Instead, the appeal of contributing to the platform rests in offering athletes an opportunity to reach their fans in an “authentic” fashion.

The Players’ Tribune provided a vehicle for a number of athlete-writers to pen responses to the climate of racial and social injustice that gripped the country last summer, pieces like WNBA player Natasha Cloud’s Your Silence Is a Knee on My Neck. The publication hopes to continue in its role as a platform for professional athletes in different sports and from different backgrounds to share their personal and political beliefs.