Last week, before the pinstriped pearly gates of retirement had even closed behind him, New York Yankees shortshop Derek Jeter had already announced where he would be taking his talents next – to the world of media.
In his new role as Founding Publisher of The Players’ Tribune, the former Yankees captain leads a publication that aims to “cut out the middleman” (sportswriters) and give voice to professional athletes. So far, the Tribune has added Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to its masthead as a senior editor, with more staffing announcements expected to come later this month.
Appearing on the Tonight Show last week, Jeter told Jimmy Fallon:
“We want the athletes to share their own stories, from a first person perspective. We’re not trying to eliminate sports writers…this is just another avenue for athletes to use to express themselves.”
Imagine that. The creator of the Players’ Tribune – an owned media platform that gives athletes a space to speak off-the-cuff – is the highly unquotable Derek Jeter. This is the same Derek Jeter who, even in his final press conference, could only speak in quotes that had even less color than the uniform he wore his entire career – it’s a whole lot of “enjoy,” and “happy,” and “respect for the game”…and not much more. I’d be willing to bet that in his 20-year, Hall of Fame career, Jeter probably had more All-Star appearances – 15 – than memorable quotes.
Not that it’s any surprise, but retirement has finally compelled Jeter to confess that his blandness has all been by design. In his first piece for the Tribune, Jeter admitted that he never felt he could speak directly to the fans. Here’s more from Jeter 2.0, now fully unfiltered:
“I realize I’ve been guarded. I learned early on in New York, the toughest media environment in sports, that just because a reporter asks you a question doesn’t mean you have to answer. I attribute much of my success in New York to my ability to understand and avoid unnecessary distractions.”
Jeter isn’t alone. Athletes constantly claim to be taken out of context by reporters. That’s why, instead of saying anything interesting, they fall back on the lather-rinse-repeat cycle of cliché after cliché. Or, if they do choose to engage directly with the public through Twitter or some other social media platform, they’re quick to point the finger at a “hack” whenever they say something they shouldn’t have.
And this doesn’t just apply to athletes – it’s really anyone in the public eye, whether that’s a celebrity or a prominent business. That’s what has made the Tribune so appealing to athletes – it’s difficult for the media to misconstrue quotes that athletes write in their own words, and it’s unlikely an athlete will say something he or she will regret if it’s been reviewed by a Tribune editor first.
The Profits and Pitfalls of Owned Media
What Jeter has created is essentially what content marketers would call an “owned media” or “brand journalism” platform. In the world of content marketing, owned media involves a brand telling its own story in new and interesting ways, instead of relying on third parties like journalists and analysts to act as a megaphone. From professional sports teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to corporations you interact with every day, brands are already using their own resources to build these new media platforms.
Owned media is a powerful tool in the hands of a good marketer – it’s one we encourage our clients to use as we help build their tech PR campaigns. But that doesn’t mean owned media hasn’t been met with some raised eyebrows by the public.
Let’s look at these few criticisms through the lens of the Tribune…
Some have said that the Tribune might not really cut out the media middleman, but rather just replace reporters with, say, players’ agents, who ghostwrite on their behalf. This eliminates credibility and partiality – two of the selling points of the Tribune. We already hear enough from baseball super-agent Scott Boras – we don’t need him to start performing a ventriloquist act with our favorite players sitting on his lap.
Another critique is that players may stop talking to sportswriters altogether, and instead just a pen a piece on the Tribune. This way, they could still speak to their fans, without relying on reporters to get their thoughts out.
Here’s the problem with these two criticisms. First, in this fractured media landscape, the more places an athlete can get his or her quotes – from the Tribune to the Times – the more likely they are to be read. Isn’t this type of fame what most athletes want, Jeter himself not withstanding? The same rule applies outside the world of sports. To achieve maximum reach and amplification, whether you’re an athlete or a business, it’s important to rely equally on all forms of media – owned, earned and paid.
Another benefit of using all three types of media relates to the validation that comes with appearing in an earned media publication. Concerns about credibility tend to wash away if a trusted gatekeeper, like a reporter, backs up whatever a subject has said on their owned media platform.
There’s really no reason any organization should avoid owned media these days. Even if you don’t think you or your business have anything good or interesting to say, just remember – if Derek Jeter can do it, after two decades of building a vanilla public persona, you can too.