BY ALEX WEPRIN | HollywoodReporter.Com
The Athletic launched five years ago with a focus on subscription local sports journalism.
The New York Times is making its biggest acquisition in years.
The journalism giant is buying the digital sports outlet The Athletic in a deal valued at $550 million in cash. The company officially announced the deal Thursday afternoon.
The Athletic, launched in 2016, has focused on local sports and other sports-related beats with a focus on subscriptions. Along the way, the company poached some of the top sports beat writers in many markets, having them continue to cover their hometown teams under the Athletic brand.
“Acquiring The Athletic puts us in a position to be a global leader in sports journalism and offer English speakers around the world another reason to turn to the Times Company to meet their daily news and life needs,” said Times CEO Meredith Kopit Levien in a statement. “The Times already provides distinctive sports coverage for a general interest audience as part of our core report. As a stand-alone product, The Athletic will enable us to offer much more — extensive coverage for fans who seek a deep connection to and understanding of their favorite teams, leagues and players. With one of the largest dedicated teams of reporters covering sports globally and a commitment to everyday reporting, The Athletic is a great complement to The Times.”
The Athletic co-founders Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann will stay on with the Timesafter the deal closes, with Mather as The Athletic’s general manager and co-president and Hansmann as its COO and co-president. They will report to Times exec David Perpich, who will become The Athletic’s publisher.
While reports of talks between the companies have been around for some time, The Information first reported that the deal was done, and the final sale price.
The company has also moved aggressively into podcasts, with sports-focused podcasts a consistently popular genre. The company also began to explore free ad-supported content, beginning with its podcast push.
That focus on written and audio journalism would seem to pair well with the Times, which has also invested substantially in audio. The Times, like The Athletic, is also focused on driving subscriptions, with advertising increasingly playing a smaller role in its revenue mix.
The Times, meanwhile, is leaning into podcasts, and building off of its flagship The Daily. In 2020, the company acquired Serial Productions (producer of Serial, among other podcasts) for $25 million, and launched new podcasts hosted by Kara Swisher and Ezra Klein, among others.
It has also explored the worlds of film and television, with a series on FX (including last year’s Britney Spears doc), an awards season push into shortform documentaries and a new executive role focusing on scripted fare.
The deal “will accelerate our ability to scale and deepen subscriber relationships, Kopit Levien said in a statement.
“We are now in pursuit of a goal meaningfully larger than 10 million subscriptions and believe The Athletic will enable us to expand our addressable market of potential subscribers,” she added. “Alongside our core news report, New York Times Cooking, New York Times Games, Wirecutter and Audm, we’ll have a more robust offering to engage the millions of subscribers we already have and convert many more new ones among our 100 million-plus registered users. Ultimately, The Athletic helps further our vision of making The New York Times the essential subscription for every person seeking to understand and engage with the world.”
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