My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center is on Derek Jeter’s new site, The Players Tribune.
Who would have thought all those hits, World Series titles and memorable moments were part of a grand plan to enable Derek Jeter to break into the publishing business?
Certainly, that has to be case because only a couple days after Jeter beat out that final infield single, he launched a new site, The Players Tribune.
In an opening letter to readers, Jeter is listed as “Founding Publisher.”
In terms of national recognition among publishers, Jeter now ranks with William Randolph Hearst and Hugh Hefner.
The power of Jeter’s name drew massive attention with him saying his new site would be a place for athletes to express their views in an unfiltered way. No stupid sports reporters making a mess of their words at The Players Tribune.
“I do think fans deserve more than ‘no comments” or ‘I don’t knows.’ Those simple answers have always stemmed from a genuine concern that any statement, any opinion or detail, might be distorted. I have a unique perspective. Many of you saw me after that final home game, when the enormity of the moment hit me. I’m not a robot. Neither are the other athletes who at times might seem unapproachable. We all have emotions. We just need to be sure our thoughts will come across the way we intend.”
Jeter was roasted for implying that his views might have been distorted since he never said much of anything as a player. Wrote Filip Bondy in the New York Daily News:
“Here’s another thing that’s wrong with Jeter starting such a site: We no longer care nearly as much what he thinks. For 20 years, we wanted to know how he really felt about George Steinbrenner; about the Red Sox; about Joe Girardi’s treatment of Jorge Posada; about Alex Rodriguez. We got virtually nothing from him.”
You would expect that reaction from a sports columnist. Meanwhile, you also can bet athletes read Jeter’s mission statement saying, “Yeah, he is so right.”
For years, athletes and agents dreamt of the day when they could eliminate the middle man, the stupid sports reporters, and get the message directly to their adoring fans. It actually exists in the new social media age with something, I believe, called Twister, Teeter…?
Jeter’s site, though, represents a new level to disconnect from the conventional means of athlete-fan interaction. For starters, who doesn’t want to hook up with No. 2? Athletes can be as star-struck as fans. Jeter already recruited Seattle’s Russell Wilson for the first installment.
“Hello, Russell, it’s Derek. Wanna write for my new site?”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
Also, Jeter’s site has some big-time money, and talented editorial and creative folks behind it. So the essentials are there for The Players Tribune to be successful.
Yet there are many ways in which he might not be the Derek Jeter of publishers:
PR posts: It is going to be hard to believe that entries are going to be directly from the athletes. These posts are going to be carefully vetted with fingerprints from agents, ghostwriters, team PR staffers, and in some cases, PR consultants, all over them. These athletes have too much invested to risk writing something that does damage to their brand.
No matter what the brass say at The Players Tribune, if these entries come across as nothing more than glossy spin, readers will tune out. Much as athletes perceive their words as being distorted, real or not, Jeter’s site faces a challenge in not being perceived as a PR site by the public.
Nothing there: Will these posts be interesting, let alone dare to be controversial? For as much as athletes complain about dealing with sports media, they really need us to help tell who they are. Yes, we ask those pesky questions, but in the right hands, they can produce highly compelling answers, which lead to compelling stories.
We provoke, get them to think and be reflective. It’s hard to imagine Jeter getting better treatment than Tom Verducci’s farewell profile of him in the recent Sports Illustrated. Verducci took readers inside Jeter far better than he could have himself.
Sometimes, the filtered approach isn’t such a bad thing.
Competition: Jeter knew how to play baseball. He had immediate success, winning championships almost from Day 1.
Baseball, though, isn’t publishing. Even the best minds are striking out in the new media age.
There is a ton of noise out there, with countless sites trying to get people’s attention. Jeter’s name only will go so far in this game.
Writes Neil Best of Newsday: “If Jeter thought playing at Fenway Park was challenging, wait until he sees what it’s like playing on ESPN’s field, where the green monster is piles of money, not a dented leftfield wall.”
The industry will be watching to see how Jeter’s endeavor plays out. After 20 years in baseball, he is a rookie again.