The New York Times Co. has agreed to pay $550 million for sports news website The Athletic, the latest step in its goal to grow its audience of paying subscribers as the newspaper print ad revenue shrinks.
Unlike many other local news organisations, the Times has thrived in recent years. During Trump’s administration and the pandemic, it added millions of subscribers, keeping it on target to reach its previously stated goal of 10 million by 2025.
The Times had roughly 8.4 million subscribers in the most recent quarter. It has been expanding its coverage with lifestyle advice, games, and recipes, which has helped it counteract a pullback from the 2020 news traffic surge, which was fueled by politics.
In a news statement issued Thursday, New York Times Co. CEO Meredith Kopit Levien said, “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.”
It’s one of the Times’ biggest purchases ever. The Boston Globe cost $1.1 billion in 1993, while About.com cost $410 million in 2005, both of which were eventually sold for less.
Recently, digital media companies have merged to help them compete for online ad revenue with tech behemoths like Google and Facebook. Axel Springer, a German media conglomerate, acquired Politico; Vox Media acquired Group Nine Media, which owns Thrillist and the animals website The Dodo; and BuzzFeed acquired HuffPost.
Based in San Francisco According to the New York Times, The Athletic covers more than 200 teams in national and local sports. It was launched in 2016 and currently has 1.2 million users. It has approximately 400 editorial personnel, according to its website, making it a significant acquisition for The New York Times, which has over 2,000 editorial employees.
The purchase of an upstart sports media company by one of the world’s largest legacy media companies is ironic. During a 2017 interview with the New York Times, Alex Mather, a co-founder of The Athletic, said, “We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing. We will suck them dry of their best talent at every moment. We will make business extremely difficult for them .”
Last summer, the two parties began talking about an agreement, but the talks fell through. Last year, The Athletic was in talks with Axios as well.
The Athletic will become a Times Co. subsidiary and operate independently after the sale closes, which is expected in the current quarter. Mather will continue in his role as general manager and co-president, with co-founder Adam Hansmann taking on the role of chief operational officer and co-president.