Since Derek Jeter took his final bow in Yankee pinstripes last fall, the former shortstop has been working to reinvent himself in the media world.
With his vision of giving players a more robust and unfettered way of communicating with their fans, Jeter hopes to create a new kind of relationship between athletes and the fans that follow them with his new company The Players’ Tribune.
Jeter’s foray into the future of media, which includes partnerships with AOL (TechCrunch’s poppa bear) and the Blue Jeans Network comes as the lines between investors, athletes and entrepreneurs continues to blur. Billionaire investor Mark Cuban has the Mavericks, while former Maverick Steve Nash has a venture fund. NY Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony is among the latest to launch a fund, with his Melo7 Tech Partners already committing capital to several startups.
Indeed, investments in sports-related companies targeting athletes, fans and fitness buffs has skyrocketed over the past five years (along with almost every other investment category). These investments peaked in the third quarter of 2014, with roughly $217 million committed to tech companies in the sports business, according to CrunchBase.
As The Players’ Tribune plots its course toward dominance in the sports media market after its official launch this week, Jeter gives us his thoughts on his company and the transition from iconic athlete to startup entrepreneur in the email interview below.
TechCrunch: How are you vetting your authors and contributors for the site?
Derek Jeter: We are an open forum for athletes. We want to be their preferred destination for telling their stories and sharing with their fans. If you have a story to tell, if you are interested in being part of the Players’ Tribune community, then we want you to contribute. It’s not an exclusive club but an inclusive community open to all athletes.
TC: What led you to create the site? When did you first have the idea?
Jeter: The media is a big part of every athlete’s career. That won’t change, but if we can be a destination where athletes are comfortable and candid, I personally think it will end up helping them deal more openly with traditional media. It will also empower athletes to set the record straight when they feel the need. We are a complement to the media, not a replacement. We started working on this idea a couple years ago and I think the timing was perfect, for me personally, since I can focus on it now that I’ve retired from baseball, and from a market perspective, given the growth of digital and social media.
TC: How did you take the company from an idea to a fully formed business?
We are a complement to the media, not a replacement. Derek Jeter
Jeter: We spent a lot of time talking to our network, understanding what athletes need, assessing the media landscape and assembling a team of advisors and partners to help us along the way. Thomas Tull from Legendary Entertainment is someone who believed in the idea early on and has been a strategic partner in helping us get to where we are now.
TC: What’s been the easiest part of your transition from athlete to entrepreneur? And … the obvious follow up … what’s been the most difficult?
Jeter: In sports, it’s about instant gratification. In business it’s all about patience. I am learning along the way. I am an intense competitor, so that lends itself nicely to the business world. But the process is different, and I am not afraid to ask for assistance and guidance along the way.
TC: Why would athletes not just take to Twitter instead of joining your roster? Is that a concern for the business?
Jeter: Twitter allows you 140 characters. And for some opportunities, that is all you need. Some athletes love to share, and that’s why Twitter has been such a vital tool for athletes to speak directly to their fans. We are giving athletes the additional tools—and additional time—to create high quality content, tell first-person essays and stories, produce video, podcasts, photography, and more. We are a multi-media platform with a first-person perspective. It’s very different than Twitter and other forms of social media.
TC: Talk about the logistics of getting this business off the ground. Was funding ever an issue? Recruiting?
Jeter: Thomas Tull, who is our strategic investor, has been a big part of helping us initially. Legendary Entertainment has an incredible digital and content business and they’ve been a great resource and complement for the business. We aren’t recruiting as much as educating athletes about the opportunity, and the response has been massive. It’s fun to hear from people about how great their experiences with the site have been.
TC: A lot of athletes and celebrities are making the transition to investors now. Do you have any investments in other startups? Would you think about joining a fund?
In sports, it’s about instant gratification. In business it’s all about patience. Derek Jeter
Jeter: Yes, I have spent significant time over the past several months learning about other new businesses, particularly in the digital space. Some of these that can complement The Players’ Tribune, like Blue Jeans Network and other innovative start-ups. Blue Jeans in particular will make it possible for The Players’ Tribune to let athletes engage with fans online and face-to-face from anywhere, for a variety of experiences. I am now on the advisory board of their company and I’m working on integrating them as an offering on The Players’ Tribune.
TC: What do celebrities and athletes bring to the table (other than money) for would-be startups?
Jeter: I think influence is probably at the top of the list, as well as their network of relationships and their unique perspective on media.
TC: Is this a platform for just high-profile athletes like yourself, or do you see this more like a Tumblr or Medium where anyone can share their experience?
Jeter: We have every type of athlete on the site contributing, men, women, young, veteran, retired, from here and abroad. What’s great is some of the most popular articles have been written by athletes who are younger and less known. We’re here for everyone.
TC: How important is video content to the development of the Players ‘Tribune?
Jeter: Video is extremely important; it’s by far the fastest growing and most popular consumer medium online and via mobile devices. It gives athletes a perfect tool to share directly with their fans and give them an extra and intimate element of access.