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Raina Kelley New Editor-In-Chief At The Undefeated

Raina previously worked with Newsweek and ESPN The Magazine

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The Undefeated has announced the promotion of a longtime voice at the website. Raina Kelley, managing editor of The Undefeated since November 2015, has been promoted to Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of the ESPN-owned site that blends race, culture, and sports all in one.

Kelley is taking over for Kevin Merida, who launched the project five years ago. Merida is now reporting to Mark Walker, Senior Vice President, Content Business Development and Innovation. 

Kelley has played a key role on the music side of The Undefeated. The “Music For The Movement” series, a collaboration with Disney Music Group’s Hollywood Records, was steered in part by Kelley. The new EIC also leads ESPN’s Black History Always movement, which highlights the success and greatness of black storytellers past the 28-day barrier in February.

“Raina is a committed, collaborative and creative presence who has been part of the visionary leadership for this platform from the start,” ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro said. “We know The Undefeated will continue to thrive with Raina in this role.”

Before 2015, the Yale University graduate wrote for Newsweek magazine where she published a column on American culture, mostly keying in on issues of race, gender, and politics. She joined Newsweek in 2003 as an associate editor and left as a staff writer in 2011. Kelley joined ESPN in May 2011 as a senior editor at ESPN The Magazine, helping with coverage of the National Football League, tennis, action sports, the Olympics, and ESPN Enterprise Unit. 

“Kevin [Merida] has been an outstanding leader, an amazing teacher, and mentor to our team,” said Raina. “I assume this responsibility knowing he has left behind a brilliant team of creative minds at The U that will continue this vision well into the future.”Kelley is taking over a new role, but the management team beneath will remain largely unchanged.

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Sports Digital News

Ryen Russillo: I Deserved To Get My Ass Kicked For Protest Comments

Russillo came under fire last year for his comments on the George Floyd protests.

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The Ringer’s Ryen Russillo came under fire last year when he and Bill Simmons commented on the George Floyd murder and subsequent protests throughout the country. Many listeners said that Russillo and Simmons showed more anger about looting than they did about the killing of an unarmed man. Russillo apologized afterward and “really felt bad about it” as heat came his way. The former sports talk radio host discussed the situation on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast this week.

“It was stupid. And I apologized, and I felt bad about it,” Russillo said on the show. “I really felt bad about it because you assume people know where your head is at and that your heart’s in the right place and things you care about, and you can forget that’s a huge audience. I was on Bill’s pod, so not everybody knows me, and not everybody does know me that well, so they were like, ‘Who’s this ass—-?’”

Russillo acknowledged to Jimmy Traina that he wasn’t as educated on the topic as he should’ve been. He has since avoided political issues on his podcast with The Ringer. 

“After that time, especially when I was reading the stuff I did wrong, I deserved to get my ass kicked here a little bit,” Russillo said. “But then there was stuff that wasn’t even accurate. It was a lesson of, ‘I don’t want to talk about that stuff because I’m not as educated about it.’”

One part of the blowback didn’t sit right with Russillo in the weeks following the infamous episode.

“So my thing is if you’re a bull—- peddler for your own message, I have no time for you whatsoever,” Russillo said. “And I pointed that out. But then there was one part of it where it turned into I was saying something about sneakers being stolen, and then that ends up in The New York Times. So I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ This isn’t even accurate.”

Russillo’s podcast is one of the most popular sports shows in the medium, and fans can listen to multiple new episodes every week.

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Sports Digital News

Buzzer Adds NBA League Pass

The platform has also struck deals with the PGA Tour and the NHL.

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The NBA added a new distribution partner for their League Pass service this week. The league has partnered with Buzzer, a mobile live sports platform geared towards younger fans. Buzzer starts airing live NBA games in different packages, on May 8.

Buzzer was founded last year by CEO Bo Han as a notification-driven mobile platform for short-form live sports that personalizes the fan experience. Han led Live Sports Rights Acquisition at Twitter for over seven years. The platform’s scheduled to officially launch sometime this year.

“The NBA is an industry leader in innovation and fan experience, and Buzzer offers a new way for the league to reach fans, particularly younger Gen Z and Millennial fans,” Han said in a press release. “Through Buzzer’s hyper-personalization, notifications, and micropayments, mobile-first basketball fans will have the opportunity to watch all the amazing moments that happen night after night, driving greater viewership, engagement, and value for the NBA.”

Buzzer is making individual games more accessible to fans. The service offers single and partial-game options that the NBA currently makes available for purchase on their website and app. Fans can purchase these options with “Buzzer Moments.”

“Buzzer will be able to meet the needs of the next generation of sports fans with a seamless experience catered to them,” Han said. “We’ve always looked at Buzzer as a place to build community, and our partnership with the NBA accelerates this mission and reinforces our commitment to the democratization of access to live sports and supporting fan engagement across the broader and ever-evolving live sports ecosystem.”

The platform has also struck partnership deals with the NHL and PGA Tour. The short-form live platforming agreements are similar to the latest deal with the NBA. The deals mark a new foray into monetizing bite-sized pieces of live sports.

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The Athletic Exploring Deal With New York Times

Axios and The Athletic were reportedly in merger talks as recently as March.

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A deal that would have merged Axios and The Athletic is no longer on the table. The Wall Street Journal reported that the news publisher and sports content company are “no longer in merger talks,” but The Athletic still wants to expand its business.

The two sides were reportedly working on a merger deal back in March, but now The Athletic has turned its sights to the New York Times. The newspaper is facing a new era after years of growth with former President Donald Trump in office. The Times signed up 167,000 new subscribers this month, marking the site’s slowest growth since the second quarter of 2019. 

“As a general matter of policy, we do not comment on rumors about potential acquisitions or divestitures,” A New York Times spokeswoman said to The Hill

The Athletic has over a million paid subscribers signed up for their $7.99 a month content offerings, but their financials are a bit of a mystery. Although a source disclosed to The Wall Street Journal that The Athletic generated $80 million in revenue last year. According to PitchBook, the company’s valuation stood at $475 million during its most recent funding round in January 2020.

The company laid off 46 people last June during the height of the pandemic but has appeared to rebound well as sports returned across the world. Co-Founder Alex Mather discussed the company’s growth with CNBC last September and made a point to mention the New York Times.

“Our investors have been and continue to be incredibly patient,” Mather said. “We just don’t think about exit, and we don’t know the upside here. There are very few companies doing what we’re doing. The New York Times is the tip of the spear, and they’re growing faster than ever. We don’t know what our ceiling is. When we feel like we know what our ceiling is, then it’s time for Adam and I to have a chat. But we have not come close to having a chat.”

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