Kobe Bryant leaving the Lakers, Big Papi stepping away from the big leagues, Kevin Love re-signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers—in the past, these sports scoops would have first been reported in a major outlet like Sports Illustrated or ESPN. But increasingly, some of the best sports reporters are getting scooped by the athletes themselves.
Since New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter launched The Players' Tribune 18 months ago, the media company has quickly become a place for athletes to circumvent the mainstream media and tell their stories their own way.
"Traditional media will, and should, always exist—it's important to the game, and it's not going anywhere," NBA star Kevin Durant, who is also TPT's deputy publisher, told Adweek. "But for the first time, we are able to set our own agenda using media and tech tools of our own."
And with Durant's help, TPT has added a new player to its roster: American Family Insurance.
AmFam became TPT's first corporate partner and will primarily work with TPT Assist, which shines a light on how athletes are helping their communities. "When I came on board at TPT, I looked to see how my brand partners could be incorporated onto the platform in a way that still felt authentic," Durant said.
American Family will be exclusively featured on the TPT Assist landing page and in branded essays, photo diaries, podcasts, video content and events. TPT will also debut a new, documentary-style branded video series.
"TPT is unique because of their vision for the platform, which is not littered with advertising units or cluttered in any way," said Telisa Yancy, vp of marketing at American Family Insurance. "AmFam has no interest in altering that vision. It's what led us to them in the first place." TPT's president Jaymee Messler said she hopes the partnership will "create a template for how we integrate brands into the site."
And, as it heads into its second full calendar year, Messler expects growth to continue with a major investment in video. "We're still a very young brand, but we've been able to establish this community of athletes," noted Messler, who said TPT's had more than 500 athletes publish more than 1,200 pieces of content to date.
This week, TPT debuted a pair of new digital video series, including the first under its content partnership with AOL. Film critic and TPT contributor Ben Lyons will host Real Fan Life, showcasing athletes' off-field lives. Paul Pierce, Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Michael Strahan, LaDainian Tomlinson and Evan Longoria will all be featured.
Wednesday, TPT debuted the first episode of Rookie/Vet, executive produced by Steve Nash. The series stars Tyson Chandler and Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns and spotlights the relationship between two athletes at different points in their careers.
TPT has also partnered with University of Michigan and Carhartt to livestream a special "Signing of the Stars" event on Feb. 3, when Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh introduces the student-athletes who signed national letters of intent.
There's no doubt TPT is in a crowded arena. Similar ventures like Vice's The Clubhouse (with Carmelo Anthony as a founding partner) and the NFL Players Association's ACE Media production company have cropped up over the past year. But, Messler pointed out, "We were first in this space. ... We anticipated efforts of imitation in some way."