DISRUPT: How Twitter changed the rules of sport journalism
The social media platform has no doubt become one of the biggest driving forces of change in the sports journalism industry in the past decade.
Before 1984, most Canadians were getting their sports news from newspapers, the sports segments of local newscasts, and the radio. The majority of sports events back then were broadcast on the CBC. However, the sports media landscape in the country shifted on the first day of September 1984.
“Welcome to this historic broadcast of TSN — The Sports Network,” John Wells said in the first broadcast of then the only 24-hour sports network in Canada. TSN launched five years after ESPN commenced south of the border in 1979. The introduction of TSN was ground-breaking because no other Canadian news channel was offering a 24-hour service at that time. It started a new era for sports journalism in Canada. In 1998, Sportsnet would join TSN in the sports media landscape that would lead to the two networks monopolizing the Canadian sports media market.
The launch of sports networks in the 80's was credited for the evolution of sports media landscape. It changed the way the public consumed sports news. The 24-hour sports network seemed to be the pinnacle of change in sports journalism but it wasn’t the case.
In 2006, when Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet, and Google bought YouTube, a new kid on the block came to play in an already populated sandbox of social media websites.
Its name was Twitter.
Even though status updates weren’t new in the tech world, Twitter differentiates itself by limiting statuses to 140 characters, real-time updates, and interaction with other users. Its initial purpose was to become a new method of communication with friends and family. However, it would evolve into something bigger — catapulting it into becoming one of the most used tools by sports journalists today. Although it would take three years before it realized its full potential, Twitter would disrupt and rewrote the rules of sports journalism.
There is no better example of how Twitter and sports are linked together than the Twitter bird logo. Here’s a fun fact, the blue bird icon has a name — Larry The Bird or simply, Larry Bird. The same name as one of the greatest basketball players Larry Bird, who played for the Boston Celtics. The name came from one of Twitter’s co-founders Biz Stone, who was a huge fan of Bird.
But, obviously, the linked between the two runs deeper than Larry.
Twitter untapped a bigger fan craving from fans that goes beyond what 24-hour sports networks offer. Its features have paved the way for fans to get closer, more connected to the sport they follow. The social media platform has turned the fans from passive to active spectators. On the other side of the spectrum, Twitter offered a way for sports teams and athletes to bypass the media every time they need to share the news. Thus, the changes brought on by Twitter has forced sports journalists to integrate the platform into their routine. It is now part of their lives.
Early research studies on the effects of Twitter on sports journalism suggested that there are three factors on how it became a game changer. Twitter made 24-hour sports network and sports radio slow and newspapers slower. Its brevity and real-time capability is the central aspect to how it separated itself from the traditional media. No other sports media platform can deliver the news to the public as fast as Twitter can. The concise and brief nature of Twitter makes it compatible to sports due to how scores and momentum change quickly.
Another factor why Twitter made a breakthrough in sports journalism is due to how easy sports journalists can promote their brand and content and how they can gain more following. If competition among sports journalists wasn’t pronounced before, Twitter has made it more noticeable and tougher as sports bloggers saw the opportunity to use Twitter to gain more readers. With the continuous layoffs in news organizations, the social media platform provided a tool for sports journalists to reach more audience members and to establish their brand.
The final aspect of Twitter that pushed it to the mainstream is how it is a treasure chest of sources and stories for sports journalists and the public to use. Along with other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, people use Twitter to share their lives. It is a digital diary that anyone can access. Another way Twitter can be a source for a story is through its retweets and likes. The number of likes and retweets a tweet attracts can tell a sports journalist what angle of the game the public wants to read.
To further exemplify these aspects of how Twitter changed the rules in sports journalism, five Canadian sports journalists share their personal experience of using the social media platform and how it changed the way they cover games.
- I -
“[Twitter] is the best sports bar in the world.”
Bruce Arthur hated Twitter before joining it.
“I hated the idea of it before I joined because I thought it was a reductionist kind of idea of language, the brevity, and the ridiculousness,” Arthur says, who has built his Twitter brand and has been named four times in the Sports Illustrated’s annual list of must-follow accounts.
The longtime sports columnist joined Twitter on October 29, 2009. His first tweet was promoting his column on the rise of Raptors’ Andrea Bargnani. Arthur says he doesn’t remember the tweeting the column. However, he remembers that Adrian Wojnarowski, the famous Yahoo Sports basketball sports columnist and a friend of Arthur, was the first person to follow him.
As Twitter became a regular thing for Arthur, his perspective changed. He says that Twitter turned out to be exactly how his mind worked in one way. He liked the ability to connect to his peers and access their ideas. He loved the jokes being shared on Twitter.
“It fit better than I probably expected,” Arthur says.
The Toronto Star columnist started at the National Post after graduating from the University of British Columbia. He was the Post’s Raptors reporter before becoming a Toronto columnist in 2007 and then transitioning to a national columnist in 2008. Since then, he has covered many sporting events — from the Super Bowl to the Olympics.
Covering sports was different before Twitter, Arthur says. Sports journalists were limited to the information they can get when they are in the press box. He says that to get additional information, you had to search it out unlike the flow of free news that Twitter offers.
“On Twitter, it’s like I’m talking to the whole world,” Arthur says. “The connectivity of ideas and especially to real time happenings to me is the biggest difference.”
Studies on the effects of Twitter on sports journalism find out that many sports journalists didn’t like the added layer of Twitter in their work. Many complained about how it hinders from producing much better news stories.
However, for the veteran columnist, he’s capable of being distracted. It doesn’t concern him as much since he views Twitter as a helpful tool. Also, as a father of four, being distracted isn’t new to him.
“All Twitter has done is to condense my experience of the Internet into one place, one gateway to the rest of the Internet.
“It used to be I had a list of sites that I would go visit every day several times a day because that’s where stuff would happen. I don’t do that anymore. I started Twitter, and Twitter takes me to those places,” Arthur says.
The trick is to know when to focus, according to the veteran columnist. When he covered the Super Bowl a few weeks ago, Arthur barely tweeted mid-third quarter because he needed to write a 1000-word story. He said that you need to know how to prioritize.
The rise of Arthur’s popularity in the Twitter community started in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Now one of the most followed Canadian sports journalists, back then he says he only had 700 followers before the games began.
Arthur says two things propelled him to being popular on Twitter. The first one was when ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption tweeted his work. It brought new followers. The second incident involved one of his sports heroes — Rick Reilly. The American sportswriter wrote a column, which Arthur described as lazy, about Canada as an Olympic host. Arthur ripped him on Twitter which got featured on Deadspin.
Following the Olympics, Arthur’s following started to grow. As of this writing, he has about 135,000 followers. Another factor that propelled him to his current celebrity status is due to his wide-ranging tweets. Besides the usual sports tweets, he also touches on politics, current affairs, and pop culture.
“The first thing when someone says they follow me on Twitter, I say ‘I’m really sorry about all of that,’ and I absolutely mean it cause anyone who sticks with me, despite all the stuff I throw on there, then I really appreciate it.
“It’s connected me to a lot of friends, especially in the industry. And that’s a pretty cool thing. I know a lot more sports writers, and they know me, and broadcasters and athletes and all kinds of people because of Twitter than I would without,” Arthur says.
His frequent use of Twitter also helped in achieving his brand. It seems like the only time he’s off Twitter is when he sleeps — a point he says is well made. Arthur says it’s the closest thing to addiction. He described Twitter as his favorite and least favorite sports bar. The time spent not working is dedicated to checking his Twitter.
“For me, I’m able to bounce in and out of it easily,” Arthur says. “If I’m working and writing, and I don’t know what to say, I’ll bounce in and out of Twitter. I can access Twitter really fast, assess what I’m going to retweet, and bang it out and go.”
However, he draws the line when it comes to family. Even though he still checks Twitter, he tries to limit his time on it.
For Arthur, politics aside, Twitter is important to sports than anything else. As long as it exists, sports writers will continue to use it to cover sports.
Twitter elevates the way we experience sports, says Arthur. When a big sporting event like the Super Bowl happens, and you go on Twitter and follow the right people, it changes the game experience immeasurably.
“It’s the same way where for example a bad Oscars. When someone’s watching the Oscars, and it sucks, Twitter makes a bad event better because everyone makes fun of what’s happening,” Arthur says.
“It’s a principle of entertainment that changed now is there’s a collectivity to it, where you can just experience it with so much more people. And you can choose who those people are, and that’s something that hasn’t exist before.”
- II -
“I don’t feel pressure to be first, I feel pressure to be right”
For Shi Davidi, it’s more important to be right than first on Twitter. As the go-to baseball sports journalist for Blue Jays news, Davidi puts pressure more on being right about the information he is sharing.
“We all want to be first. We’re all competitive. But to me, the most important thing to be is to be right and to be trustworthy,” Davidi says.
Twitter has elevated the importance of being first further fueling competition against journalists. But for the veteran baseball writer, having the brand of sharing credible information is more valuable than anything else on Twitter. Davidi joined Twitter on Dec. 15, 2009. His first tweet was about his article on the Roy Halladay trade.
The Blue Jays insider doesn’t remember posting the tweet but he recalls that he joined Twitter because of the number of journalists that were already on it. It has become the go-to place for information. When news breaks or there is developing, Twitter is the place to be.
“[Twitter] became a tool where most use it as a way to aggregate information. There was so much information that was out there, but it became a way to filter out, get some stuff that you need to know in a more streamlined fashion,” Davidi says.
Before joining Sportsnet in 2011, Davidi was a sports writer and editor for Canadian Press, mainly covering baseball from 2000 to 2010. Realizing the potential Twitter had during the initial years, Davidi’s usage of the social media site increased over the years.
“It’s really become something that’s part of my day,” the sports columnist says. Davidi adds that, besides promoting his work and staying in touch with the work of fellow sports writers, he also uses Twitter to follow news on politics, entertainment, and comedians.
Davidi maintains covering sports was different before Twitter came on the scene. Twitter added another layer in covering games. Sports journalists tend to live-tweet now because Twitter has created a new way for the sports fan to consume games.
“During the game, where before you wouldn’t have been tweeting out, now you’re engaging to Twitter,” Davidi says. “And you have to be careful that doesn’t take away with the attention you’re paying the game because you want to make sure you’re watching it picking up stuff to help in your reporting.”
Sports journalists shouldn’t let Twitter distract them from their primary purpose of producing a high-quality game story, Davidi says. Furthermore, he says that it’s the journalist’s responsibility not to let Twitter distract him or her from doing the job. Twitter is there to help you direct traffic to your work.
Davidi also cautions about the misconception that fans on Twitter is representative of all. He says that many sports journalists fall into that kind of thinking.
“I think one thing that journalists sometimes lose sight of, that I’m also reminding myself, is that Twitter compared to Facebook is very small in terms of the number of users on it.
“It’s a very small portion of the fan base that’s engaged in it. So, we like to think that, “oh, let’s get the instant reaction on Twitter,” but that’s not always the in-depth read of how people are feeling,” Davidi says.
With a following of more than 93,000 on Twitter, Davidi has built a reputation for being first and right on everything Blue Jays. In terms of an exclusive story or scoop, the Sportsnet columnist doesn’t always post on Twitter first. Instead, Davidi will write a brief article about the exclusive to be posted on Sportsnet’s website before tweeting it out. When asked if Rogers has a particular policy on breaking news and exclusives, Davidi says it’s not necessarily directed that way.
“If I think that someone’s going to break it on the Internet first, then I might tweet out the news first and then write something up after.
“But if I’m fairly certain that I’m the only one who has it. When I broke that Alex Anthopolous was leaving [the Blue Jays], I was fairly certain that I’m the only one who had it,” he says.
The rationale behind it, Davidi says, is not wasting a piece of information by posting it on Twitter first when you could do a write-up on the website and then tweet about it after the fact and as a result, bring traffic to the website.
For Davidi, Twitter is staying. Looking back to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, he and other colleagues talked about how the games were the first two-screen games, where people would watch the event and at the same time looking at content on their laptops.
Davidi says that since that time, sports fans have progressed to become consumers of multiple sources of information at the same time. And more important than ever is the sense of community that is present on Twitter.
“It’s because people love talking and experiencing the game within a community while at the same time watching it play out on the screen. So, I think that part of the experience is probably going to be more popularized [by Twitter],” Davidi says.
“I do believe people like the two-screen experience or the multiscreen experience when watching sports. That aspect of it is probably not going away.”
“I always feel like I need to find a way to separate the signal from the noise”
After watching the documentary feature Speed Sisters, which tackles the story of the all-female Palestinian race car driving team, Brendan Kennedy thought it was a good idea to tweet then-Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price.
“I was like, ‘Hey David, you going to see these awesome lady drivers,’” Kennedy says, describing how Price’s initial Thanksgiving weekend tweet about women drivers prompted his own tweet response.
Price’s tweet said ladies should let their man drive because it wasn’t safe due to a storm. There was an immediate backlash among his baseball peers and the baseball community. Players around the league were calling him insensitive. Kennedy remembers feeling the same abhorrence which led him to tweet Price.
“I just meant it as a joke,” Kennedy says. “I didn’t get any response from David Price; I didn’t expect to. I didn’t think about it at all beyond that one tweet. Nothing seems to come off it.” However, about a year and a half later, on July 30, 2015, Price was traded to the Blue Jays from the Detroit Tigers.
By this point, Kennedy says he had forgotten about the tweet. But when Kennedy checked on Price’s Twitter after the news, to his surprise, it said that Price have blocked him. The Star reporter says that’s when he remembered about his tweet which might have led to the pitcher to block him. Kennedy says he realized this was going to pose some problems since Price likes to tweet.
“He was tweeting stuff. And it became things that I had to write about. And I couldn’t see his tweets, so I had to ask my editor, ‘Can you tell me what this tweet said? I’m blocked by David Price’,” Kennedy says. Luckily, Price didn’t sign with the Jays the offseason after their first playoff appearance since 1993. For Kennedy, it was a great reminder of the importance of Twitter in sports journalism.
“I still like the joke that I made. I think [Price] was stupid for saying that about female drivers. I think he was wrong.
“But if I’d known that he would end up with the Jays and had I known he would block me, maybe I wouldn’t have done it,” Kennedy says.
Kennedy started in the Blue Jays beat in 2012. Before that, he was doing city hall reporting for the Star from 2009 to 2011. Earlier this year, Kennedy was moved to the paper’s investigative team, which he says hasn’t been an easy transition.
“I feel like I went from one extreme to the other in terms of like sports being really high volume department, turning out multiple stories a day. [I was] working on a daily deadline and writing a lot. Whereas, since I’ve moved to the I-team, I haven’t written anything yet,” Kennedy says.
He doesn’t use Twitter as often as he used to since he became a part of the investigative team.Kennedy is using it more for personal interest, to see what stories are getting a lot of traction. However, when he was in the Blue Jays beat, Kennedy says he depended on it heavily.
“In my old job, using Twitter was part of it. It’s where all the sports news breaks. I was using it regularly to update readers on the news on the team but also to point to my stories and sometimes take questions from readers and engage with them that way,” Kennedy says.
Kennedy first started using Twitter in 2009. The first tweet he sent out was, well let’s just say peculiar. Kennedy tweeted “ya,” which he says hedoesn’t remember but jokingly describes as maybe a butt-tweet. For him, since everyone in the Star was already using Twitter, it seemed natural to start using it as well.
He uses Twitter more professionally with the newspaper’s name on his Twitter handle — @BKennedyStar. Kennedy considers it a reflection of his professional life. Although it is not part of the job officially, Kennedy believes that as a journalist, he should maintain a presence on Twitter since it is the place where most of the news stories break and where most readers are.
“It definitely did feel like part of the job even though it was not stated as part of my contract. My editor never directed me to tweet a certain number of times. There was never a mandated quota,” Kennedy says.
As soon as he added the Blue Jays beat writer in his Twitter bio, Kennedy says the number of his followers quadrupled. He saw how it was the medium of choice for many sports reporters since the nature of sports heavily complements Twitter.
Kennedy has more than 14,000 followers currently. He says Twitter has made it easier for him to engage with the fans and it gives him a sense of what fans think of the team’s performance on a given day.
“You can see what fans are talking about. You can see what fans are angry about or happy about or excited about. As you said, sometimes when I’m in the press box I don’t see everything. I’m not watching on TV,” Kennedy says.
It has also been a great source for fan reactions. Kennedy says when working on stories that require reaching out to fans, Twitter has been his go-to tool to connect with them. The source for story aspect of Twitter has been one of the reasons why journalists use it, according to research. Twitter is a rich source for stories and angles that journalists might miss.
Twitter engagements provide journalists an easy way to determine which event — a home run or a stupid error on the field –fans want to read about after the game. However, Kennedy agrees with Davidi that Twitter is an accurate gauge of the Blue Jays fan base. It doesn’t represent everyone since not all fans are on Twitter.
“But not every fan is on Twitter, you’re not getting the complete picture — sometimes you are getting a skewed picture, that it seems that people are really pissed off about something on Twitter but in reality, it really only says 10 percent of the fan base,” Kennedy says.
He also isn’t shy in admitting that the added factor of tweeting during a game can be a distraction especially for journalists who have already managed multiple tasks. Both Arthur and Kennedy agree Twitter is a place to draw inspiration. It just depends on how journalists use Twitter to their advantage and still meet the deadline.
Regarding exclusivity and being a standout among the many sports reporters covering a team in a period where information dissemination is rampant, Kennedy says there are ways to achieve that such as being the only reporter to interview an athlete or a coach, coming up with a unique idea on a story, and by writing better than the rest of the group, people will faithfully read your piece whether the subject matter might be the same as the others.
For Kennedy, Twitter has changed over the past eight years. He continues to struggle from separating the good and the bad.
“It feels like a different place now than it was then. I still have never been able to find out how to make it less noisy so to speak. I use it all the same, and sometimes I’m addicted to it.
“But, I always feel like I need to find a way to separate the signal from the noise to limit the chatter and hone in on the good stuff. That’s hard to do with the medium like that where every comment is given the same value,” Kennedy says.
In the immediate future, Kennedy believes Twitter is going to be a major part of sports journalism. However, he doesn’t know if it will maintain its status as a necessary tool in game day coverage.
“Things change so fast in terms of technology. Basically, Twitter has been around for what seven years? I think it has already changed a lot. But I have no idea what’s on the horizon,” Kennedy says.
“If you asked a sports writer in 2005 whether he’d be carrying a little computer in his pocket, he might not believe it.”
- IV -
“I can’t imagine anybody cares about my opinions or about what I did that day.”
Arden Zwelling is a very busy man. In a typical day, he will do live radio, tape a television hit, record a podcast, do a Facebook Live, write a couple of game day stories, and promote them on Twitter.
His official job title at Sportsnet is a senior writer, but he says it’s more of a cross-platform position. But even with his growing digital presence, Zwelling says he keeps his private life away from his social media life.
“I don’t think anybody cares about my life. I can’t imagine anybody cares, you know, about my opinions or about what I did that day — what I had for lunch or anything. I’m a private person, and I don’t really want to share a lot of that stuff,” Zwelling says.
The veteran writer says he believes people follow him online because they want information on sports, mostly on baseball. He doesn’t heavily depend on Twitter other than using it to promote his new work.
Zwelling started using Twitter in July 2009. The first tweet he sent out said, “Check out the Gazette’s summer issues at www.gazette.uwo.ca.” At the time, he was working as the editor of Western University’s school paper, The Gazette.
“Obviously, I don’t remember [joining Twitter] that day,” Zwelling says. “I was working at the school paper that is why I got the Twitter account. We were reporting campus new, and it was a good publicity tool.”
He says he continued to separate his private life to work. Zwelling says that unlike many sports journalists, he doesn’t heavily depend on Twitter. Other than reporting new information about the team, Zwelling says he spends his time on other things.
“I just use it to tweet out my work so that people who follow me can read it. And I’ll use it to tweet out information. If I have something to report, it’s a good way to report something that you’ve learned or reported. And you could put it out there.
“I’m not the guy who’s on Twitter all day, bantering with people, bickering, going back and forth and arguing. I don’t have enough time to be on Twitter all day and do all these kinds of stuff,” Zwelling says.
Another activity he refrains from doing during a game is live tweeting. Research have shown that this isn’t the case. People are on Twitter because it enhances their game experience. It connects them to sports journalists and fellow fans who are watching the game. Twitter becomes this virtual sports bar for many fans, as Arthur says.
However, Zwelling doesn’t believe in the effectiveness of live tweeting. He thinks people are already getting the information they need either by watching the game on TV or listening to it on the radio or following it on an app.
“I don’t think anyone needs me to tell them that so and so hit a home run, that so and so struck somebody out. I mean, people are getting that information. And even if they’re not getting it from those sources, there’s like 20 other journalists who are live-tweeting the game,” Zwelling says.
He wants to separate himself from the group of sports reporters by trying to do something different and exciting that will give his Twitter account value. Zwelling says it is important to differentiate yourself in a place where its populated by thousands of people who are doing the same job as he is.
“I don’t think there is a need for it. And I don’t think fans, who follow all the Blue Jays journalists, want to see 10 people all tweeting the same thing right after each other in a line,” Zwelling says.
Twitter, in general, has added another layer of work for sports journalists. Instead of focusing on the game and writing a quality game day piece, they are compelled to use Twitter as a way to promote themselves and their content.
As someone who does more than two things a day, Zwelling says he does not feel Twitter has affected the way he writes his pieces. Zwelling says he had mastered multitasking after doing it for a few years now. But he says that if Twitter does become a liability, sports journalists should know when to step back.
“You are hired to produce a good piece of journalism and not to tweet. If it is affecting your writing, then you need to adjust your practices so that you put out the best product possible,” Zwelling says.
Even though there is an impulse to be first in everything, sports writers like Zwelling don’t always break the news on Twitter especially when he has an exclusive. He recently went to Japan to do a profile on Japan’s baseball superstar Shoehei Otani. There has been a lot of buzz on the Japanese player but only a few North American sports organizations had made the trip to do a piece about his career.
Zwelling says that when he feels like a scoop or information is relatively safe and exclusive, and there isn’t a likelihood of anybody else breaking it, he tends to write a story first before putting it out on Twitter.
Asked if he had any interesting Twitter stories after a few years of being a member on Twitter, Zwelling doesn’t have any.
“I don’t really enjoy it. I don’t think its productive. I frankly think it’s a waste of time to argue with people on Twitter. So, I don’t really interact with it that way, to be honest with you.
“So, I don’t have many of those anecdotes or anything like that because I just really use the tool for what I think its best use for and what I think best serves my purposes as a journalist,” Zwelling says.
He understands why people have Twitter open while watching sporting events. People want the second-screen experience to see different reactions and maybe glean different perspectives from fans and sports reporters.
“Personally, I don’t like having Twitter open when I’m just watching a game. If I’m watching a sporting event, I don’t want Twitter open. I just want to watch the event and enjoy it and be consumed by it,” Zwelling says.
“I just watch the sports and I enjoy them, and I go about my day. I’m not a big social media guy. I don’t have Facebook. I don’t have Instagram. I don’t have any of that stuff. I have Twitter for professional purposes. And that’s kind of what I use it for.”
- V -
“[Twitter] has become a really important part of what I do now.”
When James Mirtle joined Twitter nine years ago, it reminded him of the IRC — Internet Relay Chat. It is a chatting service that became popular when the Internet came to be in 1996.
“You could chat, and there are all kinds of different people from all over the world that would be there. You would go on to different channels and talk to different people. It’s like a big chat room is what Twitter felt like,” Mirtle says.
The veteran hockey writer started using Twitter even before it was popular. He used it to promote his sports website he started in 2004. He sent his first tweet — “trying to figure out how to use Twitter” — in 2008.
Mirtle didn’t know if Twitter was going to work out. He was in doubt about its benefits to his work as a sports reporter since other kinds of social media were popping out.
“Back then, there was nobody on Twitter, so your kind of promoting it to no one. But it’s grown really quickly, and it has become a really important part of what I do now. That’s a good example of how media changes all the time,” Mirtle says.
Mirtle describes the rise of Twitter as a turning point because of the way it changed the way sports reporters do their jobs. He says before Twitter started, journalists would sit in the press boxes with their laptops with an open Word documents working on their game stories.
“You’d have basically just one thing to send out to people. That was it. There’s no other way to communicate unless something big happens during the game that you might write an article and that will go up on the website. But that’s how it’s changed,” Mirtle says.
Twitter has become a reliable tool for Mirtle. When there’s a breaking story, he puts a link directing people to his website. Mirtle says he saw an immediate increase in traffic. From the trade deadline to the free agency signing, Mirtle has used Twitter to share new information and promote his content to his more than 123,000 followers.
Mirtle is a busy man these past few months. He has recently quit his long-time job at the Globe and Mail to lead a new sports startup called The Athletic Toronto. The subscription-based sports website started in November 2016. According to him, the website aims to revive the declining local sports coverage in Toronto due to recent layoffs in newspapers.
It also provides another option for Toronto sports fans looking for premium sports articles by veteran sports reporters. It hasn’t been an easy start for the startup, Mirtle admits. It is directly competing against the two leading sports networks in Canada which are offering free access to their content digitally.
Some sports fans are still hesitant in spending money to subscribe. The Athletic Toronto is currently asking fans for $7.99/month to get access to their premium content. One of the strongest factors that’s helping Mirtle to get the word out about The Athletic is through Twitter. With quite the following and an established brand of being one of the most trusted hockey insiders, Mirtle is using Twitter to promote the website’s content.
“The way I look at it is if you have a lot of interesting tweets and you get the information out there first, you get more followers. And if you have more followers, when you have an article, you’re going to get more people to read that article,” Mirtle says.
Most of the subscribers of the website have found The Athletic through Twitter. The majority of the traffic it receives comes from the social media. Mirtle goes so far as to credit Twitter for subscribers signing up and paying for content.
“We’re pushing people to our subscription deals and everything. When we had a subscriber party last month, most of the people came because they heard about it on Twitter. It’s really really big for us,” Mirtle says.
Right now, The Athletic mainly covers the four sports franchises in Toronto — Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Raptors, and TFC.
Asked if Twitter is sticking around for the next couple of years, Mirtle says, “I know some people don’t know about the future of Twitter and they don’t know how it’s going to make money and all of that but I think for what we do, it’s so important that I can’t see it going away.”