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The Athletic Takes On Soccer

Just in time for the World Cup, the startup media company launched in 2016 is taking its talents to soccer.




Photo via The Athletic

George Quraishi didn’t intend to leave Howler, a quarterly soccer magazine he had founded in 2011, when he got a call from Alex Mather, CEO and co-founder of The Athletic a few months ago.

At first, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. While The Athletic had been making waves in the sports media landscape as a subscription-based outlet, acquiring top journalists and producing in-depth content it didn’t cover soccer – at least not consistently.

That was about to change.

Last week, The Athletic launched a soccer vertical, bringing on a roster of renowned journalists, including Quraishi as the managing editor, to cover the world’s most popular sport.

“That the most exciting thing in sports journalism would dive into the world’s favorite sport was about as expected as a Cristiano ab-flex, and it didn’t require crunches or healthy eating,” wrote Quraishi in his inaugural post announcing The Athletic’s soccer expansion.

The more Quraishi and Mather discussed the opportunity, the more exciting it seemed. Soon, the path forward became clear.

“The mission he described was so interesting and so refreshing,” explained Quraishi. “We’re all aware of the troubles that are affecting [the journalism] industry and having come into soccer with a print quarterly that really made due on subscriber payments, I understood the power of being responsible only to the people who are paying us and the kind of connection that can foster, which I really love.”

The decision to leave Howler, which he had built from the ground up, was something he took seriously.

“I was really reluctant to saying anything at all until we had [Howler’s new ownership] in place because I’m so grateful to the Howler readers who helped us from day one,” he explained.

While working to ensure Howler was in good hands, Quraishi was simultaneously starting to build out a world-class team to launch The Athletic’s soccer vertical. Having worked in journalism and publishing his entire career, focusing specifically on soccer for the last five and a half years, he admitted to having some opinions on who he wanted on his team.

“I wanted people who really make me excited to read a story,” explained Quraishi. “I was really trying to find writers who had a really great grasp on the specific angle into soccer that they specialize in whether it’s Mexican soccer, or European soccer, or the men’s and women’s national teams, I wanted all those things to be represented but I wanted to make sure that their writing was full of wit and energy and was fun to read and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of doing that.”

To start, The Athletic is focusing on covering MLS, Champions League, Premier League, La Liga, USMNT, USWNT, El Tri, and Liga MX. As the soccer vertical grows, however, coverage will expand beyond those categories. Given The Athletic’s subscription model, writers want to make sure the audience is receiving the type of content they want and so reader feedback is extremely important, especially in the early days.

This is something Quraishi is paying particular attention to as well. On launch day, he posted a feedback request asking readers to share what they would like to see on the platform.

In the first 24 hours alone, the post saw 989 responses, including requests for Bundesliga, Canadian Premier League, and Serie A coverage, demonstrating the breadth of soccer fandom in the country.

Soccer fans took to Twitter to follow The Athletic’s new soccer page, @TheAthleticSCCR, which reached 5,000 followers in its first full day, and many within the sports industry saw their timelines flooded with people announcing their decisions to subscribe to the outlet.

The strong, positive response wasn’t surprising.

“It’s a passionate fan base and I think we knew that going in,” said Taylor Patterson the director of communications at The Athletic. “We knew that we would be touching folks that are hungry for substantive and in-depth coverage and who probably feel like they are not getting enough coverage of their teams, especially in the U.S. where [soccer] tends to be covered less than in mainstream publications.”

Soccer fans, who have often had trouble identifying a centralized place to consume content, now have a home and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We launched the day after the Europa League final, two days before the FA Cup final, a week before the Champions League final and about a month before the World Cup starts. And of course MLS is going throughout,” explained Quraishi.

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Looking ahead to Russia, The Athletic understands that the World Cup is one of the most well-covered events in sports so rather than overextending itself in the early days, the platform is taking a more measured approach to content creation.

“What we’re focusing on [for the World Cup] is really providing the sharpest analysis that we can. We’ve got some really fantastic tactical and analytical writers and, in addition to that, just people whose writing I would really want to read,” explained Quraishi.

Compelling storytelling is what will fuel The Athletic Soccer. Take, for example, Quraishi’s post announcing the soccer vertical. Quraishi took a simple welcome post and made it so much more than that, wrapping it up in a Cristiano Ronaldo metaphor. It was exciting, intriguing, and delicious to the last drop.

With that type of storytelling in mind, what if, Quraishi wonders, you give reporters the World Cup and have them cover it like their favorite TV show?

“Whether it’s The Bachelor, or Game of Thrones, or Westworld, there’s something really fantastic about the community that a shared experience of watching something like that on the TV can provide and that’s how most Americans will be experiencing the World Cup anyway.”

“I’m toying with this,” he continued, discussing The Athletic’s World Cup strategy, which will see a handful of freelance contributors on the ground and several more reporters writing from the States. “It’s the first time we’ve really talked about this-this way but I think there’s something there, we’re going to find out.”

The World Cup is just the beginning and while The Athletic has a new soccer team, you can be assured it won’t get eliminated in the knockout stages. Led by Quraishi and powered by veteran journalists, The Athletic is creating something special and soccer fans, the most passionate in the world, are ready for it.

Lucy is a contributing writer for Front Office Sports. A storyteller and brand strategist, she has worked in the sports industry for organizations including the United States Olympic Committee, IMG/WME and the Miami Open, the University of Miami Athletic Department, Florida Panthers, and Minnesota Twins. She spent 2016 living in Colombia where she accomplished a life-long goal of becoming fluent in Spanish while working for the Ministerio de Educación Nacional. Lucy is a graduate of the University of Miami. She can be reached at


Meet the WNBA’s New Boss

Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert will become the first commissioner of the WNBA and the first woman to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

Front Office Sports



Photo Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

For the first time ever, the WNBA will have a commissioner. Before now, all of the league’s previous leaders like Val Ackerman and Lisa Borders were given the title of president. 

Cathy Engelbert, the current CEO of Deloitte, will take control of the role on July 17th and will report directly to Adam Silver. 

What should you know?

1. By the time she is done at Deloitte, Engelbert will have spent more time at the company (33 years) than the WNBA has been a league (23 years)

2. Engelbert is the first female to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

3. She is the fifth person to lead the league after Val Ackerman (1997-2005), Donna Orender (2005-10), Laurel Richie (2011-15) and Lisa Borders (2016-2018)

4. Engelbert has spent the past four years in charge of Deloitte’s U.S. operation.

Basketball is in her blood…

Although she might be an accountant by trade, Engelbert is no stranger to the game of basketball. 

According to Bob Hille of Sporting News, she played at Lehigh for Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw and was a team captain as a senior. Her father Kurt also played and was drafted in 1957 by the Pistons.

What are they saying?

“Cathy is a world-class business leader with a deep connection to women’s basketball, which makes her the ideal person to lead the WNBA into its next phase of growth. The WNBA will benefit significantly from her more than 30 years of business and operational experience including revenue generation, sharp entrepreneurial instincts and proven management abilities.” – Adam Silver on the hiring of Engelbert

“I think that’s probably one of the reasons I was selected for this role, to come in and bring a business plan to build the WNBA into a real business and a thriving business, quite frankly.” – Engelbert to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel

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Adam Silver Wants More Gender Diversity

The NBA commissioner states his desire to get more women into the sports industry. The NBA currently has a 31.6 percent ratio of women in team management.

Front Office Sports




Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

If Adam Silver has his way, 50 percent of the new incoming NBA officials will be women.

That number applies to coaches too, Silver said speaking at the Economic Club of Washington.

How do the leagues stack up?

The following numbers, outside of MLB, come from 2018 reports put together by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. MLB is the first league to have a report done on it this year.

1. NBA – 31.6% of team management are women / 37.2% of team professional admins are women

2. NFL – 22.1% of team senior admins are women / 35% of team professional admins are women

3. MLB – 28.6% of team senior admins are women / 26% of team professional admins are women

4. MLS – 26.5% of team senior admins are women / 31.6% of team professional admins are women

5. WNBA – 48.6% of team VPs and above are women / 58% of team managers to senior directors are women

6. NHL – No report done

Quotes from Silver… 

“It’s an area, frankly, where I’ve acknowledged that I’m not sure how it was that it remained so male-dominated for so long. Because it’s an area of the game where physically, certainly, there’s no benefit to being a man, as opposed to a woman, when it comes to refereeing.”

“The goal is going forward, it should be roughly 50-50 of new officials entering in the league. Same for coaches, by the way. We have a program, too. There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball.”

That’s not all Silver wants to see change…

Silver, who has been adamant about getting rid of the one-and-done rule, provided some clarity as to when that might be achieved.

According to the commissioner, the 2022 NBA Draft will likely be the first one since the 2005 NBA Draft to allow high school players to go straight into the league rather than playing a season in college first.

Citing “active discussions” with the NBPA, Silver noted that they are still “a few years away.”

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“I Thought This Was a Good Deal”: AAF Vendors Speak Out

Amidst the spring football league’s collapse, countless vendors are still waiting to get paid for services rendered.

Robert Silverman




Ultimately, it was the little things that best told the story of how dire things had gotten for the Alliance of American Football (AAF), an ex-team social media manager said. Starting in Week Five, social media managers no longer traveled with the team for road games. Even before, they’d doubled up on hotel rooms. The final bit of penny-pinching was the most bizarre: For the eighth and final AAF game, social was told Getty’s photographers would not be in attendance. Instead they would have to rely on “generic images,” making the job vastly more difficult.

Less than a week later, on April 2, the chaotic, short-lived lifespan of the spring professional football league, launched in March 2018 by filmmaker Charlie Ebersol, the son of venerated TV producer Dick Ebersol, came to an abrupt end. A little over two weeks after that, the AAF filed for bankruptcy, as first reported by Front Office Sports.

In the aftermath, stories like the social media manager’s have become ubiquitous. A  former player was sent a medical bill for treatment received during training camp. Scores of others reportedly had to cover their own airfare or were sent four-figure bills for hotel rooms. There was the class-action lawsuit filed by two players, claiming that ownership misled them about the league’s long-term fiscal solvency. Founders pointed fingers at one another after the debt-ridden league came crashing down. All manner of now ex-employees, from team officials to players,  learned they were out of a job thanks to social media.

The league’s bankruptcy filing revealed that $48.3 million was still owed to a variety of creditors against a $11.3 million in concrete assets, a scant $536,160.68 of which remained in the league’s bank accounts. Moreover, the AAF informed the thousands of creditors that any attempts to recoup their losses would be pointless right now, because, per Sports Business Journal, its coffers are entirely bare… “If it later appears that assets are available to pay creditors, the clerk will send you another notice telling you that you may file a proof of claim and stating the deadline,” the filing states.

But like the social media manager, many of those selfsame creditors began to suspect the AAF was on rocky financial ground long before the league officially pulled the plug.

Shortly after Tom Dundon, the majority owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, who built his financial empire on the backs of subprime auto loans, bought a majority share of the financially-strapped league, he started to cut corners, looking to pare down expenses by any means necessary according to a report by Sports Illustrated. “As soon as Dundon took over, our f——— expense reports were getting approved out of Dallas,” where Dundon Capital Partners’ office is located, a former mid-level AAF employee told the magazine. (Dundon did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent via the Carolina Hurricanes. The form to contact Dundon Capital Partners on their website was removed at some point in the past few months )

With the AAF bleeding millions each and every week it remained in existence, per USA Today, Dundon deemed it necessary to scrimp and save wherever possible including on the margins. So vendors—companies that supplied locker room supplies, traveling equipment and more—were approached hat in hand and offered less than the full amount owed by the AAF.

READ MORE: AAF Files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy 

While AAF officials served as the point of contact, two sources involved with the negotiations told Front Office Sports that the debt-clearing plan was conceived and ordered by Dundon’s financial team. If that meant exploiting AAF officials’ pre-existing relationships with vendors and playing on the faith placed in the league, so be it. As one former AAF official told Front Office Sports, it was “just a shit situation.”

Some of the companies did take the lowball offers, but others refused to accept less, insisting on full payment. It didn’t matter. Both paths led to vendors getting stiffed by the AAF. Dundon’s financial team kept stalling, promising the equivalent of “the check’s in the mail,” right up until the moment when the AAF closed its doors for good.

Now those vendors have been reduced to poring over the bankruptcy filings. They know all too well that, despite being out five or six figures, they’re way at the back of the line, trailing giant conglomerates like MGM and Aramark which are owed millions. And they’re not happy about it.

“I definitely feel scammed,” one vendor said.


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