What's the logical second act for a baseball player who has won a Roberto Clemente Award, two Hank Aaron Awards, five Silver Slugger awards, and five Golden Glove Awards? Content marketing, of course.
At least, that's what Derek Jeter seems to think, having launched The Players' Tribune just four days after playing his last game as shortstop for the New York Yankees. The site invites athletes to pen their own stories, presenting themselves and their ideas directly to fans. It's a noble cause, but the site also has business ambitions, as Jeter's publishing team has said it eventually will host branded content. These are still very early days, but if the site sustains its current quality and momentum, Jeter may turn out to be as good a marketer as he was a baseball player.
For one thing, Jeter understands the disintermediation of traditional media that is driving the rapid growth of content marketing. Thanks to the convenience and speed of digital publishing, brands don't have to rely on traditional media channels to get their messages out to the audiences they want to reach. They can go straight to the source. What Jeter's website shows is that celebrities managing their personal brands crave direct contact with audiences just as much as corporations do. As his introductory post on the site explains, he and other people in the limelight are often overly guarded in their interactions with reporters out of fear that "any statement, any opinion or detail, might be distorted." Why not cut out the middleman?
To some degree, celebrities have already done that. They've been interacting with the public through social media in a more (Rihanna's Twitter feed) or less (Beyonce's allegedly photoshopped Instagram) unscripted manner for years now. But what's different about The Players' Tribune is that it offers athletes space to describe in some depth either their thoughts on the news of the day or something going on in their lives. Essentially, the site has embraced middleweight content, a publishing strategy that allows content creators to fully develop a thought or idea, yet produce pieces short enough for daily publishing and easy consumption.
Danica Patrick's first post about her relationship with fellow NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., is a good example of why focusing on middleweight content was an extremely shrewd choice. We can all imagine a scenario in which a magazine might not provide full context for a juicy quote like this one: "The truth is, there are more misunderstandings than understandings between Ricky and I." But in her own piece, Patrick made clear that she and her beau have developed ways of dealing with the stress of competing against one another, and that she believes being in a happy relationship (as hers apparently is) helps her racing. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was similarly able to share his nuanced perspective about the relationship between football and off-the-gridiron violence, particularly domestic violence. These are timely, interesting essays that fulfill the first rules of content marketing -- produce something good and tell your audience something they want to know.
It remains to be seen whether The Players' Tribune can sustain itself. How many athletes will Jeter be able to cajole into taking time out of their busy schedules to write for his site? I don't think it will take much convincing. Athletes are so often treated as commodities, but like anyone else, they have thoughts and ideas, families and causes. The public's hunger for the tiny details of celebrity life is insatiable, and Jeter's foray into content marketing means people will get inside access -- but only to the things athletes really care about. That has to be a welcome change in a world where people speculate endlessly about your career every time you twist your ankle. What Jeter is offering is nothing less than free agency for athletes' personal brands. One hopeful sign that people will keep reading is that Gary Hoening, the site's editorial director, told Mediabistro's PRNewser that the site "won't be promotional." It better not be. Consumers are smart, and marketers that put their own interests above those of their audience are doomed to failure.
Derek Jeter's site is ostensibly a service for athletes -- a way for them to seize control of their words, images and messages. But "The Captain" seems to have learned one important lesson from his playing days: If you lose the fans, you've lost everything.