Ben Lyons Reinvents Himself as "Voice of the Fans" at Jeter's Players' Tribune

Ben Lyons - H 2015
The Players' Tribune

The 33-year-old has rebounded from a rocky stint as Roger Ebert's replacement on the TV show 'At the Movies,' shifting his focus from Hollywood to his greatest passion: sports.

While baseball great Derek Jeter is the man behind the athletes-centric website The Players' Tribune, a 33-year-old, best known for his work in Hollywood, has become its public face and voice.

Ben Lyons, the handsome, tireless son and grandson of high-profile New York journalists — Jeffrey Lyons and Pulitzer Prize nominee Leonard Lyons, respectively — heretofore was best known for his brief stint as Roger Ebert’s replacement on the syndicated TV show At the Movies (he got the gig in 2008, when he was just 27, and proved not to be everyone's cup of tea), as well as his red carpet work for E! and Extra. But sports is his greatest passion — he's a Knicks fanatic who hosts a show for ESPN LA 710 AM — and, since TPT's launch in February, also has been his primary focus.

It was then that Lyons was brought on by Jaymee Messler, TPT's president, to serve as the host of its weekly Sirius Radio show and podcasts, as well as forthcoming video series made possible through a partnership with AOL. And so far, his enthusiastic fanboy approach, which engendered some criticism in his previous incarnations, has worked well for him in this one — after all, he was hired to be "the voice of the fans."

Lyons’ big takeaway from his first months of the job: “Actors don’t want to have their life shared with the public, but I think athletes now do want to give fans insight into their life and their thought process and their training habits and their fears and joys and all that.” He elaborates, “Why do we watch the Olympics even though nobody cares about the luge, nobody cares about snowmobile racing, or whatever? It’s the human interest stories, every Olympic cycle, that suck us in, that connects us to sports.” At TPT, he says, “I’ve had athletes come up to me and be like, ‘Hey, I’m a basketball player. I loved that hockey story. I’m not even a hockey fan, but that guy was really cool or interesting.’”

Lyons says he regularly pinches himself about working for Jeter, who he used to skip school to see in games and parades — and says his regard for the ex-Yankee is as strong as ever: “He’s incredibly accessible, whether it’s coming into our office in New York for staff meetings or being out here [in Los Angeles] at an event like the ESPYs or being with our editors and interns and photographers.” He continues, “I talk to him pretty consistently, especially if there’s somebody coming on the radio show who he’s friends with. If CC Sabathia’s gonna call into the show, I’ll text Derek and be like, ‘What should I ask him?’ And he’ll send me back 20 questions. He’s really done a nice job of making himself available, but also not overshadowing the brand.”

How does Lyons envision the company evolving? “I really see the sky as the limit, in terms of different revenue streams,” he says. “I strongly believe that in three years, five years, maybe even shorter, you’ll see on traditional sports media, ‘The Players’ Tribune presents The Ben Lyons Show’ on ESPN or on NBC or something. We’ll do partnerships. We’re already doing that with Sirius XM and AOL.”

But, if the company does markedly grow, is it realistic to think that athletes will continue to share their stories without asking for a share of the profits? “The compensation,” Lyons insists, “is owning your own voice, which is really hard to do for athletes. They’re asked questions in the heat of the moment — during a game, right after an emotional game — when they don’t have the time to necessarily process what it is they want to say. And when you see a sit-down interview with a big star in traditional media, you know how it goes — they do 30 minutes, cut it down to two minutes, and of those two minutes one sentence is the headline. We’re not trying to do that.”

Besides, he points out with a laugh, “The guys love getting business cards. If you’re a world-class athlete, when have you ever had a business card? We make guys, you know, ‘senior editor’ or ‘senior contributor’ or whatever the title. They love it — they really love it!”