Given the massive financial losses at The Athletic, reports that fantasy sports giants FanDuel and DraftKings put in a bid to purchase the subscription-based sports website were a bit surprising.
But it turns out that at least FanDuel actually has no interest in a merger or takeover of The Athletic, the CEO of FanDuel’s parent company said in a call with employees. Instead, the news appeared to be the result of investors of The Athletic trying to drum up some fake interest.
“That is not something that we are bidding for,” Flutter CEO Peter Jackson said in the call, as relayed by Boardroom. “I mean, that’s a private equity firm who’s trying to get some interest in an asset they’re selling.”
Flutter is the parent company of FanDuel, which partners with OutKick. Audio of Jackson’s call was forwarded to Boardroom by FanDuel director of publicity Kevin Hennessy.
“Rest assured, we speak on behalf of FanDuel,” Jackson said on the call, via Boardroom. “They are part of Flutter. None of our brands, none of us, none of the companies (have an interest in The Athletic).”
So yes, it appears that reports of companies placing bids on The Athletic merely were the result of investors of the fledgling website trying to make it seem like a viable purchase.
But per Front Office Sports, The Athletic has burned through nearly $100 million over the past two years alone, with its ad-free model failing to generate nearly enough subscriptions or renewals to cover the substantial salaries for some of the site’s talent.
The Athletic has already held talks with the New York Times on a potential merger or outright Times takeover on two occasions, but those talks failed to produce the financial support The Athletic sought. The Athletic also held failed merger talks with equally struggling news website Axios.
Since the talks with the Times and Axios, The Athletic has hired investment banking firm LionTree to help locate a buyer, Front Office Sports reported. But clearly to no avail — not even when investors at The Athletic try to drum up fake interest.
The site is bleeding money, lacking the type of daily coverage of major sports teams that co-founders Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann once promised, and has few interested investors on the horizon. So, it appears The Athletic will remain in a troubled financial spot for the foreseeable future.
This is especially true given the enormous amount of sports content that is available for free, or at least cheaper, with actual newspaper beat writers generally producing considerably more content than those covering beats for The Athletic.
The Information reported that FanDuel was “among a number of companies that have submitted bids” to buy The Athletic, but apparently the part about FanDuel is fake news. Now, you can’t help but wonder if it all is.