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New York Times Reportedly in Discussions to Acquire The Athletic

The subscription-based sports media company would bolster Times’ properties outside hard news.

If you’re a sports fan, the chances are that The Athletic has coverage that’s come across your timeline.

NBA fans get national coverage from Shams Charania, David Aldridge, and Sam Amick, as well as local beat writers for each team. The same goes for Ken Rosenthal, Jayson Stark, and others for baseball, Michael Lombardi and Lindsay Jones for the NFL, and Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside for hockey. If you’re a fan of European or American soccer, the WNBA, motorsports, or combat sports, The Athletic has something for you, too.

And as it looks to diversify its businesses, The New York Times is reportedly in talks regarding a full acquisition of The Athletic to boost its post-election subscriber base further, as first reported by Axios Tuesday.

With 1.2 million subscribers, The Athletic generated $80 million in revenue last year but didn’t turn a profit. The pandemic forced layoffs of nearly 50 Athletic staffers, though the company has hired roughly 90 back since then and reportedly has 600 full-time employees as of this writing, including 400 editorial staffers. The company raised $50 million in Series D funding that valued the company at $500 million.

It’s unknown how much NYT would be willing to shell out in a potential acquisition.

The Times saw massive subscriber growth over the last four years and now has nearly eight million paid subscribers, including seven million digital-only subscriptions. The company could look to The Athletic to diversify its subscriber base beyond news, and Axios speculates that NYT could look to bundle the two subscriptions together, like Disney does with its Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu offerings.

But no matter what path the Times chooses, its reverberations across the media industry will be significant and far-reaching.

Axios reports that other companies like Vox Media, owners of properties including Vox.com and sports blog network SB Nation, have spoken with The Athletic about a deal. The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Axios itself discussed a merger with The Athletic via SPAC, but are no longer in talks.

As Axios notes, the Times has had mixed success acquiring large media brands in the past, including the Boston Globe, Wirecutter, and About.com (where this reporter interned during college while it was under Times ownership). Adding a global, all-digital sports outlet like The Athletic, however, would take them into uncharted territory.

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