Crafting deeply resonant, universally appealing stories requires a team effort, and Airtable facilitates constant collaboration for The Players' Tribune.
It’s easier than ever for celebrity athletes to reach an audience of millions, with unprecedented opportunities to tell their stories on their terms through social media and beyond. But not every athlete is a celebrity. What about those who haven’t yet found their audience — or their voice? The Players’ Tribune is a publisher born for this moment — a “content coach” of sorts, helping pro athletes (both the famous and the almost-famous) ensure their words on the web speak as loudly as their play on the field.
“Having an outlet entirely focused on [content created by athletes] seemed like a savvy direction,” explains Deputy Editor Dan Treadway.
Treadway says he goes into every conversation with athletes with an open mind. It’s his job to help them articulate and express stories and get these athletes talking about things they maybe haven’t shared before.
“There were a lot of outlets providing news and mock drafts, but there weren’t a ton of stories providing context on what made athletes tick. Our model for story creation was unique because we formed collaborations between athletes with great stories and seasoned editors who understood how to organize a great story,” Treadway said.
The Players’ Tribune was founded in 2014 by baseball legend Derek Jeter. It provides a platform for athletes to share their stories in their voice. One of the big challenges for the team is managing the workflow between editors and writers, who, unlike in a typical newsroom, are all part-time, remote, and beholden to multimillion-dollar contracts and nearly year-round travel schedules for their “day jobs.”
Airtable helps give the team “a bird’s eye view of everything we’re working on, [allowing] immediate collaboration. If someone sees something that they can help out with, they can jump on a project.”
Treadway says the collaboration is constant and necessary for their unique editorial mission, but as on the field, the road to peak performance was paved with trial and error and failure. “Our first year we tried to experiment a lot with different sports and athletes to figure out what resonated with readers,” says Treadway.
What they found was that there was no correlation between popular content and a specific sport, or even an athlete’s social media following. Instead, the best performing pieces were the ones that combined the utmost quality with the deepest resonance. Passionate storytelling triumphed over everything else, outperforming even stories that featured famous big name athletes. “Oftentimes, if our editorial staff finds a story fascinating and engaging, our audience will as well,” Treadway says.
Treadway goes on to say, it’s not as much about quantity, as it is quality. “That's another thing that makes us really special. We don't produce a ton of content here. What we do with everything we produce is make it meaningful and impactful and that is a lot of what I think that’s a lot of what keeps the engine moving.”
“When the site first launched, there was a lot of skepticism surrounding whether we would be able to publish anything of substance. Four years later, we’ve touched on issues I never would have thought possible,” says Treadway. These issues include heavier, more emotional topics, such as depression, mental health, and grief. In a way, they are stories that can only be effectively told directly by a publisher like The Players’ Tribune — the raw, direct pipeline of information of a social media era finessed and refined by a professional editorial team.
“These are difficult things to talk about, and [athletes] have trusted our outlet to help them express [them] in the right way,” says Treadway. “For me, that’s the greatest feedback possible. That trust is what keeps me so passionate about what we do here."