PlayersVoice only launched this month and it has already made global headlines thanks to founding contributors like Nick Kyrgios.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on September 28, 2017

‘No beat-ups, no clickbait, no agendas’ — it’s the tagline that could change the face of sports media in this country.

Founder and CEO of PlayersVoice (PV), Kerry McCabe, can see that our elite sportspeople are at their wits’ end with traditional media. Time and time again, he says, they are seeing their words twisted and spun by journalists and sub-editors needing to push an outlet’s agenda. So, the Australian businessman created a platform for athletes to contribute first-person narrative directly to the fans, without the meddling middle-man. It’s a similar platform to Derek Jeter’s The Players’ Tribune in the US, which after a third round of funding this year had reportedly raised a total of $US58 million, and secured more than 1200 contributors. Such is the value in the concept.

Nick Kyrgios opens up

PV only launched this month and it has already made global headlines thanks to founding contributors like Nick Kyrgios. Kyrgios is notoriously prickly with mainstream media, and because he believes reporters are always looking to portray him in a negative light, or sensationalise even his most innocuous responses, he rarely opens up. But his candid and raw piece on McCabe’s website, shows just how much he is willing to divulge if he trusts that it’ll be published as he delivers it.

Wallabies legend George Gregan, who was sounded out by McCabe to sit on the PV advisory board along with Liz Ellis and Paul Roos, confirms that Kyrgios — whose comments on PV were picked up by the New York Times — is the rule rather than the exception. “A lot of players or athletes feel like their message can be lost in an article and this way they can take full control and ownership of it,” he says. “It’s just an unfiltered way for athletes to be able to communicate their message directly to the people that want to read it.”

The rise of clickbait

One of the biggest factors fuelling the athletes’ growing disdain for traditional media is digital clickbait. “Sometimes you can be having an interview and the headline might not necessarily represent what the full context of the interview is about,” Gregan tells The CEO Magazine.

You read the article and you think what has the headline got to do with that? It doesn’t represent what’s being said.

This can be damaging because too many people skim over the article, and formulate their opinions on a sportsperson based on a headline that can be wildly out of context or worse.

As Gregan touches on, this isn’t necessarily a slight on the author of the article. “Often you feel for the journalists as well as the athletes, because in many cases they don’t have any control over the headlines, and their angles are misrepresented. Which, of course, can strain their relationships with the athletes,” he continues. “The PlayersVoice editorial team make sure the headline represents exactly what the athlete is trying to get across, and I think that’s very important.”

With clickbait regularly causing sportspeople to be pilloried on social media, Gregan insists it can affect their performance too. “You’ve got to be careful as an athlete particularly when you’re still competing as to how much you want to give of yourself. Because it can potentially come back and impact you in a negative sense, be it your preparation or performance. That’s what’s great about this new concept, it allows that decision to be made by the athlete. They can share as much as they want, and fans can engage with them on that level.”

The athletes’ response

McCabe insists he’s been inundated with glowing reviews of the concept. And the proof is in his ever-lengthening list of contributors, which includes and is certainly not limited to, Australian Kangaroos captain Cam Smith, dual-international Israel Folau, World Champion boxer Jeff Horn, and Matildas superstar Sam Kerr.

“Having the ability to tell their own story is a refreshing notion for professional sportspeople. They can deliver that first-person perspective in a safe environment, where it’s their words, their story,” McCabe explains. “Since launching earlier this month, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from professional sportspeople, both those who have published on the website and also those in those individuals’ networks. And I think the key reason is the feedback and engagement that that content has had with not only those individuals’ current fans and those interested in their codes, but very importantly the general sports-loving community as a whole.

“The fact the stories have been picked up en masse by both local and global media outlets, is just further validation to the interest of the pieces and the desire for audiences to understand more about our elite athletes,” he continues. “That storytelling and deeper insight has been lost in the face of systemic pressure on traditional media, and it’s been lost because of social media. “We believe our elite sportspeople are becoming curators of their own brand. They are realising the necessity to take a more active role in connecting with their current and future fans, and our platform is purpose-built for that.”

What this means for traditional sports media

McCabe says his new platform can coexist with traditional media, rather than cannibalise it. “We’re not competing with sports news, we’ve just seen a real void when it comes to relatable sports storytelling,” he explains. “We don’t at all see ourselves as competing with sports news journalism, but my initial read given the interest we’ve already had, almost to a media outlet, is that they also see our content as complementary.”

Maybe for now, at least. But as we’ve seen with The Players’ Tribune, sportspeople are beginning to break news through the new media platform too. No example more famous than Kobe Bryant revealing his retirement from the NBA via an emotional poem on the website in 2015. One thing is certain, McCabe is listening to Australia’s elite athletes and giving them what they want — ‘No beat-ups, no clickbait, no agendas’.