When Derek Jeter founded The Players’ Tribune in 2014, he did so to give fellow athletes an outlet where they could tell their stories directly to fans. He was immediately joined by the likes of Russell Wilson, Blake Griffin and Danica Patrick, and thousands of athletes have since used the platform to announce retirements, explain contract signings and open up about issues ranging from racism to mental health.
That usership helps explain how the site has raised nearly $60 million in funding from various investment firms and celebrity backers like Kobe Bryant and billionaire Thomas Tull. And the company has now taken another step toward its goal of becoming the premier one-stop shop for athlete storytelling: The Players’ Tribune has acquired sports technology platform Unscriptd.
The non-cash transaction is centered on Unscriptd’s mobile app, which was built specifically to help athletes create, edit and publish short-form videos. Perhaps most importantly, the app streamlines the process of publishing athlete content — often in partnership with corporate sponsors — directly to social media feeds.
“What it really does is eliminate a lot of the friction between athletes and their audiences, specifically in social,” says The Players’ Tribune’s CEO, Jeff Levick. He adds that, as an athlete-founded and athlete-funded company, The Players’ Tribune is primarily focused on solving athletes’ problems; to that end, Unscriptd and its proprietary technology were uniquely suited for the job.
“It’s been really challenging to find technology partners who bring that same level of athlete-first sensibility to the businesses they’ve built,” says Levick. “For us, this was very much a needle-in-a-haystack acquisition, to be able to find such a like-minded business; we’ve been focused on content, they’ve been focused on technology, and the acquisition has been about quickly bringing those two things together.”
“Both businesses were born from a deep understanding and connection to the athlete first,” echoes Unscriptd co-founder and CEO Brent Scrimshaw, “and as the discussions progressed, it became a no-brainer that the combination of The Players’ Tribune brand, commercial acumen and intimate athlete relationships, together with Unscriptd’s proprietary technology and complementary geographic footprint, was a perfect match.”
Unscriptd was founded in 2013 by a group of former Nike executives — Scrimshaw had previously led Nike’s European operations — and it began its foray into the athlete storytelling space in 2016 with financial backing from tennis legends Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, seven-time world champion surfer Stephanie Gilmore and a handful of other athletes. In the years since, Unscriptd has amassed a network of some 2,500 athlete users.
Those athletes will now be brought under The Players’ Tribune’s banner (the invite-only app will be rebranded as The Players’ Post), greatly expanding the site’s roster. What’s more, the U.S.-centric Players’ Tribune is adding global reach: Unscriptd’s focus has thus far been outside the United States, targeting fans of soccer, cricket, Formula One and other global sports. Athletes using the platform have included superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Virat Kohli.
That scale is particularly important since The Players’ Tribune is still very much in growth mode. Although the site has doubled its revenue year-over-year, it has yet to turn a profit. The Players’ Tribune has thus far featured more than 4,000 pieces of content from over 2,000 athletes, and acquiring a video platform seems to be a smart play, given that this year the site saw a 133% year-over-year increase in video views.
Levick thinks that the new tech should help drive viewership — “It makes it much easier for players to take the content that they’re producing with us and seamlessly share it across social; that should only raise how far and wide the content is received” — but that it’s ultimately about making The Players’ Tribune an outlet that pro athletes will want to use to tell their stories.
“It’s solving an athlete problem in communicating with their fans,” says Levick, “but for us, it’s equally a new opportunity to truly have a piece of technology that connects athletes with other athletes, not just here but globally.”