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Kobe Bryant holding a basketball in front of his faceMockup of an app element3 buttons on a digital interface labelled Community, Podcasts, and Scores

Reaching every fan

How we helped The Athletic deliver breaking news
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Research, Design, Product Strategy
iOS, Web
UX, UI, Strategy

Stories at the heart of the game

When Alex and Adam launched The Athletic in 2016, they set out to change sports journalism. Instead of paying writers per word, they hired the best writers on a salary, encouraging them to go deeper with their stories.

The Athletic is built on a foundation of unparalleled sports journalism. Four years and a million paying subscribers later, The Athletic saw an opportunity to serve a massive new audience—the casual sports fan—that wants free access to scores, stats, and breaking news.

Alex's team came to us with one question: How can The Athletic use free content to engage a new audience without diminishing the value of their core product?
“Our ambition is to be the sports page for the world. MetaLab helped us design a product to acquire our next million subscribers.”
Alex Mather
Co-Founder (The Athletic)
“We needed a way to attract casual readers and demonstrate the value of subscribing.”
Birju Kadakia
Director of Product Management (The Athletic)
Our approach

News, analysis, and opinion in one compelling product

Our researchers spoke with sports fans who all said they wanted both thoughtful journalism and real-time content in one place. They also expressed frustration with not being able to find news that mattered to them. They loved the in-depth content but struggled to find scores in The Athletic.

We explored three different concepts and more than a dozen content types to give the fans what they’re looking for. Then we stress-tested these ideas with a mix of existing and potential subscribers. People loved our new approach to scores and the new content formats for individual games, major tournaments, and other aspects of sport.

The result is an enhanced product that offers readers more free content than ever before. And, The Athletic team now has a roadmap with potential new features to fuel its growth for years to come.
Mockup of an app on a mobile device
Mockup of an app on a mobile device

Richer team pages

Everyone has their team. With team pages, readers can filter through the noise and binge on the updates they care about. Scores, standings, podcasts, and headlines are all in one spot. Everything about your favorite teams is served up as soon as the news breaks.

Improved navigation

In user testing, we found out that users were frustrated by the old menu design. The new nav gives registered users one-click access to the leagues and teams that matter to them. Live games are also featured prominently in the new design.

Free previews

Casual fans might find The Athletic when searching for recent scores or a major news headline. Our design mixes in free previews of in-depth content to show unsubscribed readers what The Athletic has to offer. These free users can also opt-in to get notifications about developing stories.
previews of the Athletic appScreens of an app
“We explored several new content formats that support The Athletic’s core value prop—high quality, in-depth journalism—and thoughtfully layered in other relevant content.”
Hanson Wu
Design Lead

Design for the win

All of these improvements are driving massive gains in organic search and positive changes in user behavior. Search traffic has increased 5%. The new Team Feeds and Game View features are seeing engagement from 30% of subscribers.

We’re rooting for The Athletic. Their team is continuing to test and iterate on the product design concepts we created together. We can’t wait to see their next play.
Feature adoption: 30% of users have used short form or headline
Traffic growth: Search traffic has increased by about 5%
“We are a team of creators and to help us see our vision and ideas through, we needed to add functional excellence that could bolt on to our existing team. Working with MetaLab was the easiest decision we ever made.”
Alex Mather
Co-founder, The Athletic