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David Goldman / AP

The Athletic, a locally-focused, subscription-supported sports publication, announced its expansion into nationwide coverage today with the splashy hires of Stewart Mandel for college football and Seth Davis for college basketball.

What makes it different: The Athletic charges $5.99 a month (or $40 for a full year) to access its content, allowing it to provide a clean ad-free presentation to readers. From Mandel: "The Athletic's subscriber model allows us to focus entirely on high-quality written content. NO ads, NO auto-play videos, NO clickbait."

Why it matters: An AP NORC Center and American Press Institute study earlier this year found that 53% of people are willing to pay for news that suits their interests and fosters a good user experience. Spikes in subscriptions and investments in subscription products across diverse, often-specialized publications like The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The New York Times' cooking section and The Information prove that trend. By investing in a clean user experience and backing it up with quality niche content, The Athletic is hoping to latch onto the trend.

The pedigree: The Athletic came out of prestigious tech incubator Y Combinator last year after its founders saw a lack of focused coverage and analysis in local sports markets — eventually expanding to four cities: Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, and Cleveland. But the Mandel and Davis hires clearly showcase a bigger vision for the company's eventual reach.

How it's going: Per Bloomberg, the company needs between 8,000 and 12,000 subscribers in a city to become profitable. It took 8 months from its mid-2016 Chicago launch to hit 1,000 subscribers, but it grabbed 10,000 subscribers with ease in hockey-crazy Toronto — the only city where it's currently profitable. The rash of new hires comes from a $5.4 million funding round that closed last week.

Changing landscape: Mandel was laid off by Fox Sports last month while Davis was laid off by Sports Illustrated earlier this year — ESPN also notably laid off a number of big name journalists in 2017.

Another trend: These layoffs are happening as a result of both consolidation within the sports media ecosystem and a pivot to video-focused content, which has created an opportunity for smaller, editorially-focused sites to enter the ecosystem. The goal? Often, it's being snapped up by a VC firm or — perhaps ironically, given The Athletic's poaching of laid-off writers — a legacy media outlet looking to connect with a base of intelligent, information-hungry consumers. Think: Turner's 2012 purchase of Bleacher Report and Vox Media's commercial relationship with Bill Simmons' The Ringer that was announced earlier this year.

Go deeper

4 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.

5 hours ago - World

France recalls ambassadors from U.S. and Australia over submarine deal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C), and French ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

France has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after both countries blindsided their French allies with a new military pact and submarine contract, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The backstory: While sealing an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, Australia ripped up an existing $90 billion submarine deal with France. That led senior French officials to accuse the U.S. of a "stab in the back."

Updated 5 hours ago - World

In reversal, Pentagon now says drone strike killed 10 Afghan civilians

Caskets for the dead are carried towards the gravesite as relatives and friends attend a mass funeral for members of a family that is said to have been killed in a U.S. drone airstrike, in Kabul on Aug. 30. Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A U.S. drone strike launched on Aug. 29 killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan, including seven children, rather than the Islamic State extremists the Biden administration claimed it targeted, the Pentagon said Friday.

Why it matters: U.S. Central Command said at the time that officials "know" the drone strike "disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat" to Kabul's airport, and that they were "confident we successfully hit the target."

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