Friday Perspective: Derek Jeter's New Life as a Publisher

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Derek Jeter - The Players' Tribune
Derek Jeter - The Players' Tribune

Every Friday I give quick perspectives, opinions and thoughts on the world of marketing and beyond. This week’s entry is below.

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On Wednesday, a whole five days into his retirement from baseball, Derek Jeter announced the next chapter of his life - The Players' Tribune, a website that "will present the unfiltered voices of professional athletes."

It appears this concept has been in the works for some time. Jeter will serve as the founding publisher, but Gary Hoenig, one of the founding editors of ESPN Magazine, is the editorial director, showing this isn't merely some idea Jeter concocted on his own and will run with until he begins getting high paying broadcast offers prior to next season.

Of course, as many have already mentioned, it's ironic that Jeter wants to launch a site that gives athletes an opportunity to better share information and bring fans closer to athletes. The Captain, though seen as a likable, all-around good guy, ranks up there with Michael Jordan and Tom Brady as one of the all-time most boring interview subjects in sports. While always polite, Jeter never offered much substance, sticking to scripted answers that I'm sure were provided to him by the Yankees PR staff.

Getting back to the website, its mission is...interesting?

In his introductory post, Jeter, talking about fellow athletes, says he's creating the site as a place, "that gives us a chance to say what's on our minds." He says the site will give athletes an opportunity to share what they really think and feel without the risk of those thoughts and feelings coming across in a way other than how they intended. The Players' Tribune will also allow athletes to connect with their fans in an unfiltered way.

The explanation of the site brought two things to mind:

    • The media clearly understand what Jeter's doing here, as Chad Finn of the Boston Globe noted: "If you can put yourself in Jeter’s specially made Nikes, the desire to cut out the middleman — the mainstream media — is understandable."While the media may understand it, it doesn't mean they like it. Finn went on to say, "But purporting that this site will tell the athletes’ real story is ridiculous. It will tell their stories as they and their handlers want them told. It’s about controlling the message. It will provide less insight, not more." Finn is right about athletes telling their stories the way they want them told, but I disagree with him that it will provide less insight. That statement comes from a place of fear. If this thing takes off, and I think that's a big if, it could mean less news hooks for traditional sports reporters. Think about it - if this was around a few months ago, maybe LeBron James would've announced his return to the Cleveland Cavs on The Players' Tribune rather than Sports Illustrated. See this as it is - a small blow to sportswriters.
    • Athletes already have ways to communicate with their fans in an honest and transparent way - Twitter, blogs, Instagram, Vine. Is The Players' Tribune needed? It's a bit weird that Jeter acts as if this is something new. It's even odder that The Players' Tribune doesn't have comments enabled. Does Jeter really want this to be two-way communication between players and their fans?

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The Players' Tribune certainly has the potential to become what Jeter talks of, but we need to see more first. The site's first article, penned by Russell Wilson and focusing on domestic violence is a good first step. The Seattle quarterback, widely seen as a Mr. Goody Two-Shoes (as he calls himself), revealed that he was a bully growing up. He started fights, he knocked out teeth. The public may have never learned that without The Players' Tribune.

To continue offering something different than we as fans receive from mainstream media, the new site needs to continue matching Wilson's honesty with its future articles.

Enabling comments wouldn't be a bad thing either. And if Jeter really wanted to surprise us, the athletes could even respond to comments - that certainly isn't something most reporters do.