The following is an article that originally appeared on Forbes.
By Michelle Bruton
In 2014, Derek Jeter founded The Players’ Tribune to create a place where athletes could be themselves and tell their stories in their own words—unvarnished and directly. The goal was for fans to feel like a fly on the wall in an athlete’s life and experiences, rather than reading cut-and-dry articles about how athletes thought they performed in a game.
Seven years later, “I think we’ve achieved that,” Jeter told me. But The Players’ Tribune always had a goal of expanding the platform globally. Today, Jeter announced the site is about to embark on a massive expansion into Japan, the world’s third-largest sports market—but one that previously had no athlete-driven storytelling platform.
“Japan produces some of the worlds’ top athletes, but they do not have a platform that would allow them to speak directly, openly and authentically to their fans—until now,” Jeter said. The Players Tribune launched a separate landing page dedicated to its Japan content, which will feature original content from Japanese athletes as well as archival pieces translated into Japanese.
The Players’ Tribune will also collaborate with Japanese production company Miraikanai to focus on content and production.
Since The Players’ Tribune launched in 2014 with the then-revolutionary model of an athlete-driven platform, other ventures have used it as a model, including Uninterrupted, Thirty Five Ventures, and TOGETHXR.
In the last seven years, there’s no question digital media has had a difficult time as business models shift. Layoffs, paywalls and increased ads are just some of the ways media companies have been forced to adapt. In January 2019, Front Office Sports reported The Players’ Tribune had undergone a round of layoffs. It wasn’t alone; that same month, BuzzFeed, Verizon Media Group, Vice Media, Vox Media and Refinery29 all laid off staff too.
In November 2019, however, Minute Media announced it had acquired The Players’ Tribune and bolstered its foothold in sports content, having already acquired The Big Lead and through a partnership with FanDuel. It also acquired FanSided in January 2020.
“Minute Media acquired The Players’ Tribune because since its launch in 2014, we have been in awe of the way the stories have been able to bring people together,” Minute Media CEO Asaf Peled told me. “When reading the athlete stories, listening to our podcasts or watching our video series, you get the feeling that you’re experiencing these moments with the athletes—which is a really rare and powerful thing that is difficult to emulate.”
The pandemic has made life difficult for businesses in general over the last year, but especially media companies. “But despite a turbulent year, our business grew 80%+ annually,” Peled says. He attributes that growth in part to Minute Media’s global presence, scale and distribution model.
According to Peled, Minute Media operates in 14-plus global markets and its employees speak more than 12 languages. “Our Japan team has been in place for years,” he said. “They understand the nuances of the market from a content, brand and advertising perspective.”
“I knew after speaking with Asaf and the Minute Media team that it would be a perfect home for TPT,” Jeter said. He touted Minute Media’s integrated publishing platform, audience development tools and global distribution network as the keys to The Players’ Tribune developing its global reach, infrastructure and technologies.
Jeter says the media landscape has changed “dramatically” since he founded The Players’ Tribune in 2014, noting that readers are now consuming more news through social media than through any other medium. That is a guiding principle behind the company’s growth strategy.
The timing of The Players’ Tribune launch into Japan is not directly related to the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where baseball will be making its return to the Olympic program for the first time since 2008 given the sport’s massive popularity in Japan.
Still, “Japan has a rich history in sports—and especially in baseball,” Jeter said. “The passion for the sport and the incredible baseball fan base in Japan is something special. I have experienced it firsthand.” Without giving too much away, he adds, fans can expect some upcoming stories from Japanese baseball players soon.
The launch comes at a time when Asian communities around the world, especially in the U.S., are being subjected to horrifying racially motivated attacks. According to the Stop AAPI Hate National Report released in February, the U.S. saw nearly 3,800 hate incidents during the last year. “It is clear with recent hate crimes to the Asian community that more stories need to be told and more Asian voices need to be heard,” Peled said.
“At The Players’ Tribune, we strive to amplify and elevate underrepresented voices in sport and share the very real—and sometimes hard-to-hear—stories that have shaped and impacted the lives of our athletes,” Jeter said.
“We are proud to offer Japanese athletes a platform that will allow them to speak directly, openly and unfiltered to their fans and the Japanese community.”