STRV & The Athletic: Playing to Win

Depending on who it is you speak to working within the world of American sports media these days, when the name, The Athletic, is mentioned, you’re likely to hear some version of — raising the bar of modern sports journalism.

For those unacquainted, The Athletic is a premium subscription-based sports news platform that's been making serious noise over the last few years. Their tagline: helping sports fans “fall in love with the sports page again.” Their way of achieving this… good, old-fashioned, top-notch sports writing.

Today, The Athletic’s stable of local and national writers are widely considered the highest caliber in sports media, covering baseball, football, basketball, hockey, and soccer from college to international levels.  Providing fans with nothing short of unparalleled world-class sports journalism is the mission. In a current sports news landscape where many outlets aren’t delivering — The Athletic certainly will.

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After helping them wow Y Combinator with the development of an MVP in 2016, STRV has worked side-by-side with The Athletic, developing and maintaining their iOS and Android apps.  Filipe Simões, STRV's The Athletic Project Manager, alongside developers Jan Remes and Lukáš Hermann, sat down with us to offer some insight into the ins and outs of working on the ongoing, The Athletic, project.

So right off the bat (bad sports pun intended), why would someone pay to use The Athletic's app instead of going to a sports website and getting content for free?

Jan:  Many of the articles on The Athletic are long form and they hire only the best journalists. Their goal is to deliver stories their users can't find anywhere else.

The Athletic has created quite a bit of buzz for their rapid expansion and recent successes. Can you speak on that?

Jan: The Athletic is working to create one unified platform for sports news.  They want to go beyond just short news, like general highlights, stats, and scores.  They work to create an insightful forum that's also meant to be humorous and entertaining.

Filipe: The main selling point that they provide is, we live in a day and age where it's very easy to consume news, but the standards in journalism have been decreasing for the past several years.  The Athletic charges a subscription for actual quality content without all of that. Interesting content people are willing to pay for.

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As far as service area, where is The Athletic at today?

Jan: It's everywhere in the U.S. and Canada.

But the plan is to go global, correct?

Lukáš: Absolutely.  Their ambition is to turn The Athletic into the next Spotify or Netflix in terms of what they'd like to achieve.

Switching gears a bit, let's talk about the creation of the app itself.
Jan: STRV built the’ The Athletic’ app from scratch, starting with the iOS version while they were still in the early stages of Y Combinator. As coverage has expanded, we’ve redesigned the app a few times.  The important thing was to keep the UI simple and convenient to use.

Lukáš: During development, we suggested specific interactions and animations, and together with the ‘The Athletic’ designer, created a unique user interface using parallax animations and gestures. For larger tablet screens, we implemented a special design.

Any significant challenges or difficulties you guys would like to speak on?

Jan: For iOS, it came down to how to best display the content.  The articles are HTML, and we wanted to provide offline reading functionality.  Articles aren't structured in text, it's HTML, so it can get quite messy.  This was one of the biggest challenges — how to display articles so they are always working and reading correctly.

Lukáš: It's the same on Android's side, especially with offline issues. Storing everything in HTML instead of text and then displaying it correctly has been quite tricky.

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From STRV's perspective, what's been the highlights? What makes The Athletic app special?

Jan: The design is really nice, and we have quite high ratings in the App Store, like a 4.5 with 20,000 reviews.

Lukáš: What makes The Athletic special for me is its ad-free content. The content is very rich and also valuable to those interested in fantasy sports.

Jan: And those into sports betting.

Yes, that's one of the first things that struck me as someone who has spent time in Las Vegas. The betting world must be really eating this app up.

Jan: (laughs) Yes. But it’s definitely not a core purpose for the development of the app.

Filipe: One thing I'd like to highlight from STRV’s point of view about the project itself is that it’s an impressive cooperation because we have been a part of it from the beginning and have seen all of The Athletic's phases along the way. We work with many startups in Silicon Valley, and sometimes they just need an MVP and then get the funding and hire their own team. For The Athletic to trust our developers and extend this partnership for such a long time, from MVP to first release, second release, adding features, to now handling their user base, it's an excellent sign of trust in Lukáš and Jan.

Great, guys. Thanks for your time.

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James Christopher Lacek

James Christopher Lacek

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