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Derek Jeter On Leading With Trust

For Derek Jeter and “The Players’ Tribune” CEO Jeff Levick, mistrust of mainstream sports media has fueled the success.

Give 110%.

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Take it one game at a time.

Leave it all out on the field/court/ice.

By now, we all know the canned pro athlete quote by heart. The reason it’s become so generic stems, at least in part, from a gnawing mistrust between mainstream sports media and the players they cover. For Derek Jeter and The Players’ Tribune CEO Jeff Levick, giving athletes an honest, trustworthy, and authentic platform for their words not only helps them land access to athletes that others can’t, but has made it one of the fastest growing sports media companies in the world.

“Our company is built on trust,” said Jeter, speaking at The Fast Company Innovation Festival. “Trust is something that’s been fractured between athletes and mainstream media.”

“If we’re not here, these stories will not be told,” said Levick. “They’re not going to go to ESPN or Sports Illustrated, that trust has been broken. So we provide them a platform and outlet.”

Derek Jeter (left) and Tribune CEO Jeff Levick [Photo: Daniel Salo]
As a business, The Players’ Tribune also works with brands to produce sponsored content, and is moving towards licensed content–creating work for brand partners that may or may not live on The Players’ Tribune channels.

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“Branded content is at its best when it starts from an athlete idea, and then we find a brand who shares that same sentiment, as opposed to a brand-led idea,” says Levick.

The company is also expanding onto the big screen, producing a feature film based on a Players’ Tribune story about the life of former NFLer Vernon Turner. Levick was reluctant to add more, saying only: “It’s fair to say that we’ve got a repository of content, as well as data around audiences and the stories they’re interested in, so that gives us a catalog of stories to potentially expand on,” he said.

When asked about his leadership strategy, Jeter’s answer provided insight into a man who had been under media scrutiny for much of his adult life.

“I’d say getting to know the people you’re leading. You always hear that phrase, ‘Treat everyone the same.’ You don’t treat everyone the same, you treat everyone fairly, not the same,” says Jeter. “You’re dealing with different personalities. Some guys you can yell and scream at, others you gotta give a hug to to get the best out of them. The only way you can tell the difference is if you take that time. Just because you’re in a leadership position doesn’t mean people respect you. They may listen, but they might not respect you. The only way you can earn that respect is if you take the time to get to know them.”

Which sounds a lot like The Players’ Tribune approach to athletes and storytelling.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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