ESPN said it intends to launch “The Undefeated,” a long-gestating digital hub that examines the intersection of sports, race and culture, on May 17, marking its latest push into content tailored for digitally savvy sports audiences.
The date coincides with the Walt Disney-owned sports-media juggernaut’s upfront presentation to advertisers. ESPN said the publication will combine long-form and short-form storytelling, original reporting and provocative commentary aimed at African American consumers as well as those sports fans seeking a deeper understanding of black athletes, culture and related issues.
The site will be led by Kevin Merida, a former Washington Post managing editor who joined ESPN in November 2015. Raina Kelley, a former deputy editor for ESPN The Magazine, will serve as managing editor. Steve Reiss, a deputy assistant managing editor at the Post’s Styles section, will be deputy editor for enterprise and narrative; and Latoya Peterson, a former editor at large at Fusion, will be deputy editor for digital innovation.
“We will do long-form narratives, investigative work, host a weekly podcast to start, have a strong visual footprint, and look to partner with our colleagues elsewhere at ESPN on projects and special ideas,” said Merida in a prepared statement in describing some of the site’s work.
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Despite the fact that the bulk of its revenue comes from advertising and affiliate fees, ESPN has been pushing more aggressively into digital-content realms. The company also operates FiveThirtyEight, the stats-and-politics site led by Nate Silver, and had gained a lot of notice for Grantland, a sports and culture site led by Bill Simmons. The two parted ways last year after their relationship had appeared in public to become more contentious. Grantland has since been shuttered, with Simmons importing a number of its former staffers to work on a new site, The Ringer. Other former editorial personnel are now holding forth at MTV’s revived MTV News.
The Undefeated has had rocky moments as well. ESPN and Jason Whitlock, the site’s founding editor, found they were not in lockstep, and the site seemed destined to stay in limbo. At one point, The Undefeated was to have launched last June, but staffers instead discovered they needed to find other ESPN outlets for their work. If the site debuts in May as expected, it will be cause for some excitement.
[Updated, 9:47 PM PT]