After many, many rumored “transactions” the Athletic has finally found an owner in The Times Company, parent to The New York Times. Credit to Jessica Toonkel for landing the exclusive scoop over at The Information.
Note for newbies, I am a HUGE fan of The Athletic. Given their past promotions, I have banged the drum for the startup for years as one of the best news subscriptions out there. They’ve amassed a monster collection of writers across the globe who are amongst the best in their field. I check their site once when I wake up, and at least once before I go to bed.
Additional note, I am a fan of Wirecutter and the NYT Cooking site and have both high up in my RSS Reader (remember those things?). I don’t currently subscribe to the NYT, however, I easily utilize my free monthly allowance every month.
To me, this is a big win for sports fans. The Athletic’s inability to secure funding or an owner would have been really unfortunate. While I think that Twitter was the ideal owner, I am giddy about the NY Times acquisition. Under full disclosure, while working for Starbucks, I had the pleasure of working with the team at the NY Times on a coventure wherein Starbucks loyalty customers were able to read the paper while in our stores. Even back in 2011, they understood where the digital movement was going and they were adamant about not devaluaing their prperty with “free”. So while we pushed for unlimited access for our best customers, we didn’t get it.
As Martin Peers at The Information explains:
”Revenue and profits are still growing slowly—The Times is expected to report revenue of $2.06 billion for 2021, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence, up only 34% since 2016. But the number of paying digital subscribers has increased fourfold in that time, which is a promising sign. That growth is likely why Wall Street has rerated the stock. Five years ago, investors were paying 1.1 times the next 12 months’ revenue for shares of The Times. Today that figure is about 3.2, according to data from Koyfin. That’s a big premium over the multiple for rivals, including Wall Street Journal owner News Corp or digital native BuzzFeed, whose stock is now trading at a little more than 1 times next year’s projected revenue.”
So, what does it mean for The Athletic? Well, apparently they have a new boss. As someone who has been part of start-up acquisitions, I can tell you that they are always bumpy from both a management and cultural perspective. While the Athletic may remain independant, it’s hard to imaging that things won’t change for those who are either employees or writers.
Personally, I hope that this will mean a revived look at their writer standards. I think that as they’ve expanded they’ve cut corners on writing quality in some local markets. Once again I say, i am an Athletic fan and I am not painting with a broad brush, but several teams I follow are dramatically underserved in terms of the quality of writing their fans get. At the national or league level they are stacked across all leagues. It’s some (not all) of the beat writers that I feel are really raw.
I think that the one thing that may tick of many of the Athletic subscribers is the addition of ads into the equation:
”The Times Company expects the acquisition will be dilutive to The New York Times Company’s operating profit for approximately three years, as it scales subscriptions and builds an advertising business, and accretive thereafter.”
I do have to say that I find some of the Twitter hate hillarious for the NY Times. My favorites are those who claim to be jumping ship at the notion of the Times now owning the Athletic. Sorry kids, I just don’t buy it. Great content is at a preimum and in the end you won’t care who owns it if the quality remains the same (or increases) and the price doesn’t dramaticaly increase. If the Times is able to serve up contextually relevant ads to me as a result of my participation in their network, then for the most part i won’t care about that either.
The alternative to this deal being consummated was not one I wanted to consider. The Athletic has become a dominant source of sports content for us and if the NY Times is the one to save it, then so be it. All in all, with all the BS going on in the world, it’s a good start to the new year. Besdies, i haven’t seen any mention of layoffs or cuts (yet) how refreshing is that?
As always, my DM’s are open and you can email me too.