Last year, the media industry watched a dispute heat up between the staff of Deadspin and higher-ups at G/O Media, the parent company of the sports website, when deputy editor Barry Petchesky was fired for “not sticking to sports” and the entire editorial team resigned in protest. Now, 18 former Deadspin writers and editors have come together to form a digital media company called Defector Media.
The new company launched with a podcast in July (The Distraction), with its website making its debut early last month. Tom Ley, a former Deadspin features editor, is the current editor-in-chief, and Jasper Wang, former Bain & Company employee, serves as vice president of revenue and operations.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has paused live sports coverage, the company isn’t worried that there will be a shortage of topics to dive into, Ley said. Writers are also reporting on other topics, such as business, politics and culture, which intersects with all sports.
One recent example is the debate about whether colleges and universities should try to play the football season during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it’s technically a sports story, “it’s actually a story about labor, race, and class,” Ley said.
“You cannot have a meaningful conversation about whether Clemson and Auburn should be travelling and playing football through a pandemic without also talking about the moral implications of having the players—a mostly black unpaid labor force—put their own health and their families health at risk just so that the universities that do not pay them can continue to rake in billions of dollars in sports-related revenue,” he explained.
Currently, Defector operates on a subscription business model, which Wang played a key role in creating. Subscriptions for $8 a month includes unlimited access to articles, while $12 a month includes unlimited articles and commenting privileges; annual discounts are available for either plan. The podcast, which is produced in partnership with Stitcher, also serves as a source of advertising revenue. Additionally, Defector plans on experimenting with light advertising and hopes to host live events in the future.
After the initial launch was announced in the New York Times in late July, the company received 10,000 subscriptions within 24 hours. A few days later, it increased to nearly 15,000. For Ley, it indicates that people are excited to see the new website and their favorite Deadspin writers and editors return.
“When we were at Deadspin we were good at setting ourselves apart from the competition just by sort of filling the negative space that other sports publications either didn’t want to or just never got around dipping their toes in. We’ll do media criticism, which there’s just not a lot of in sports media. We’ll be rude in ways that other sites don’t like to be. We’ll be agonistic but do that in a way that’s very thoughtful,” Ley said.