It is no secret fans and brands looking to engage in sport crave original content in all forms. How that content is delivered and by whom and in what medium has created a bit of a land grab, with traditional sites and platforms learning to deal with platforms like “Players Tribune” and now “Uninterrupted,” with its infusion of capital from Warner Brothers and Turner helping back the venture fronted by LeBron James and his management team. Is the content/ “players voice” concept just an American idea? Apparently not, at least in India, where a platform with a similar idea has launched.
The Players’ Diary helps publish unfiltered stories of athletes in the first person, giving fans exclusive first person access to stories from games that they love. These are everyday human stories with an aim of connecting fans to the sportsperson and the game like never before. By allowing athletes across India a platform to share their thoughts and opinions, The Players’ Diary creates a stronger bond between sports fans and sports persons, while also allowing athletes to retain the commercial rights to their stories.
We were intrigued and caught up with PD’s Pankaj Urmaliya to find out more.
What was the impetus for creating the site and how has it been received?
There were quite a few reasons actually. Sports in India does not get the coverage it deserves from the media, who filter stories from their own perspective and sometimes twist it out of context. We wanted to give athletes a way of reaching out to fans in a very personal way, and help them monetize their stories, and keep them connected to the grassroots.
I had gone home on vacation, and met a vegetable vendor who was an Asian Games gold medalist in Kho Kho. She had sold her medals and was selling vegetables on the streets to make ends meet. This should never have happened.
This type of content has done well in the US with sites like The Players Tribune, is there a market for it in India and other countries?
The market for sports (not just cricket) has actually grown at a much faster rate in India compared to the growth rate globally. With increased prime time focus on sports like tennis, football, kabaddi, wrestling, badminton etc, people are getting more involved and athletes are slowly becoming household names. The market not only exists, but is immense.
Have you talked to Players Tribune about what they have done and what you are doing?
We haven’t to be honest. The idea for the players diary has been a couple of years in the making and the success of something like the Players Tribune has only given us a market validation of sorts about the need for such a product.
Having said that, we believe that it is always beneficial to learn from the experience of other startups, and as such, we have been talking to a lot of people about how to best run things.
What has been the response from athletes?
Overwhelmingly positive! There are stories that need to be told, and stories that people need to hear. The fact that we can give them a platform that can air their views in an unfiltered manner is something that our athletes that we’ve talked to have embraced.
Are there plans to expand outside of India into other parts of Asia?
Currently we have a billion people to take care of! We’ll keep expansion plans for later. 🙂
Is the Indian fan interested in such content? Are you planning multi-media as well for an audience that is all about mobile?
Multi media is of course a big way forward. However, we want to not lose focus on print media, given that the internet penetration and speeds in our country is not the best. In such a scenario, text works better in large parts of the country. Having said that, we plan to have video and audio content as well going forward, all in the first person context.
How important is star power with such a venture?
Like everything, there are pros and cons. It all comes down to the execution of an idea. Star power could help with initial traction, but we believe that a real change can only be affected by a very strong product offering. As long as the content and the value we keep adding is top notch, things will take care of themselves.
Star power could potentially also get you better content faster, but again that is down to execution and strategy. The flipside of star power is the media scrutiny that could actually derail a lot of efforts. Star power – might be good to have, but nothing necessary.
How have you been gathering content to this point? Is it on a volunteer basis or are athletes compensated?
We do not pay for content. All stories are voluntarily got from athletes who have a story to share. We have an optional contract agreement for our athletes, but again, even that is voluntary.
Who are some of the athletes on the hit list for you?
I wouldn’t say we have a hit list as such. The idea is to have a diverse range of athletes from across various sports. As long as the value add to our readers doesn’t get diluted, athletes from all across the board are invited.
What makes good content? Is it different for an Indian sports audience vs, the US or UK?
To be honest, that is something that we will learn as we go along. However, as we mentioned, the utmost importance is to ensure the product offering and the value add (both to fans and to athletes) does not get diluted. We want to have as little editorial say in our athletes’ stories as possible.
Human stories sell, be it in India, or the US or the UK. Stories that are true to their core and not fluff pieces. As long as the stories are unfiltered and come straight from the heart of our athletes, that’s good content.
Where do you think the site will be in a year in terms of content, media partners etc?
We plan to have diversified across multiple sports and get out at least 3-4 stories a day. Partnerships are things we are exploring even now, so a year down the line we might be talking about something totally different! But the aim is to be the top destination for fans to know more about their idols and the games that they love.