The sports media world has seen its first major consolidation of the year with the purchase of The Athletic by the New York Times.

The Athletic first came on the radar for fans of US sport when it was founded in 2016 and achieved greater critical mass on this side of the Atlantic when it set up a UK version focused primarily on football. It attracted a host of star name writers and focused on going deep at individual clubs rather than just following the mainstream headlines.

It is reported to have signed up 1.2 million subscribers, I am one of them, making around 15 per cent the size of the New York Times which has also developed from a traditional media outlet funded by advertising to a paid subscription site.

The size of the deal is understood to be €550 million, roughly the same valuation as the latest round of fundraising in early 2020.

That was before Covid and the impact it had on sport. This was hard felt at the Athletic which posted a loss of €41 million on revenue on €47 million in that first year of lockdowns and disruption.

A big spend on talent was clearly the reason behind the scary numbers and it remains to be seen whether the desire to be given their head by writers who have a clear sense of their own worth will be retained under new management.

There is at least no serious conflict between what the two outlets cover as the New York Times has not been strong in the sports space.

Early indications are that the two brands will retain independence and operate as stand-alone businesses though clearly some economies of scale and savings will be needed in the short term at least to stem those losses of the past two years.

There is a message from founders Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann on the Front Page section of the Athletic this morning, underneath five main stories from the sporting world.

“Nothing is changing about your The Athletic subscription at this time,” they say. “We will continue to invest in our world-class newsroom and the local and national coverage you can’t get anywhere else.”

‘At this time’ is the caveat that readers and writers will see as a flashing light but it was obviously a deal that needed to be done at this point and only time, and the number of subscribers, will tell if it was a good one for everyone involved outside the original investors.

Sport for Business Perspective

Craeting a specialised niche audience and delivering consistently strong, relevant coverage and analysis in return for a subscription is clearly something we believe in here at Sport for Business. The Athletic has long been a daily source for our sporting passions and worth the money we pay to access it. Fair play to the team behind it for striking a deal to get their own value.
For the moment though it goes from a ‘pay without question’ each year into a ‘review how much I get from it’ situation. That’s fair enough.
The loyalty of readers and subscribers should never be taken for granted.


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