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Facing Uncertain Future, The Athletic Talks Merger With Axios

With subscriptions seemingly at a standstill and renewals wavering, sports website The Athletic has engaged Axios on discussions of a possible merger, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

No one was sure how things would go for The Athletic when it launched a little more than five years ago. The idea was sports news, at a price.

That wasn’t necessarily a novel idea. Some sites have been charging for years. But The Athletic was different in that it puffed out its chest and insisted it would hire some of the best sportswriters in the nation, localize coverage and reinvent the daily sports section for the modern era, all while going ad-free.

On each of those fronts, it has succeeded.

But industry sources tell OutKick that over the past year and a half, subscriptions to The Athletic have been lagging and renewals have been worse. “If you don’t have advertising, renewals are where you make your money,” one source said.

Insiders strongly believe The Athletic hasn’t yet made enough money via subscriptions and renewals to come close to covering the costs of writer salaries and travel expenses.

“The majority of their cash flow is the result of investors, and at some point, you need to answer to them,” another source said.

With a shaky subscription base, The Athletic has been looking to sell or merge for at least a year, maybe two, sources said, indicating the pandemic didn’t help matters.

Per The Wall Street Journal, The Athletic and Axios are still in the early stages of merger talks, and there is no timeframe for when a deal may happen. Talks could even fall apart, leaving The Athletic in search of another partner. Axios is a news startup.

One of the ideas being discussed involves building a larger online publishing brand, possibly including “going public through a blank-check firm,” The Wall Street Journal reported. They may also try to find more investors or perhaps bring in additional publishers, especially those who produce content for which consumers would be willing to pay.

If The Athletic and Axios do indeed go through with a merger, it remains unclear who would lead the company or what it would be called.

Bottom line: The Athletic may not feel desperate yet, but the fact that it’s seeking a merger is evidence that it is standing on less than solid ground.

Written by Sam Amico

Sam Amico spent 15 years covering the NBA for Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports and NBA.com, along with a few other spots, and currently runs his own basketball website on the side, FortyEightMinutes.com.

15 Comments

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  1. While their ‘pure’ sports writing can be AT TIMES excellent- they far to often allow wanderings into ‘get woke go broke’ over there and it turns people off. IF they stopped the those guilty of soaking their scribblings with woketardness it could succeed I would think. Or at least be closer to being an actual real ongoing concern with you know, revenue and profit.

    Sadly this will likely be yet another example of the parable that is refused by the left as impossible.

    “GET WOKE GO BROKE”

    • To your point my tolerance and ability to ignore wokeness is off the charts at this point but I do speak with my $ and eyeballs. I’m a current subscriber to the Athletic but cancelled my renewal over the summer when seemingly every article became shrouded in identity politics. The three writers I do read and who at least most of the time stick to sports are quality reporters but I don’t think it’s enough to get me back. I’m going to a smaller more local site next that covers the city’s sports I care about- hopefully the Athletic doesn’t have the money to buy them first.

  2. The Athletic soon turned into a sports version of The Atlantic, to the point where they’re indistinguishable in their wokeness. That’s the problem with today’s pedigreed sportswriters…they’re incapable of writing articles without virtue signaling their social justice bonafides. There are many other options for that garbage…for free.

    • That’s Saint George Floyd the Blessed. Outside of the Timberwolves arena, they’re constructing a statue of him holding a gun to the belly of a pregnant woman (while his buddies were ransacking her house). Surely one of his finest moments.

  3. Here’s what Axios preaches on its home page:
    And of course, they have big link to BLM…
    Why it matters: President Biden has made the COVID-19 crisis and a post-Trump return to national unity and traditional democratic ideals his top priorities. From vaccinations to stimulus to schools, Biden is seeking bipartisan compromise while showing a willingness to use executive authority and bare Democratic majorities in the U.S. House and Senate to implement his policies.

    If that doesn’t make you wanna vomit, then just imagine a sports-centric magazine joining forces to create a cutting edge dumpster fire. That should work.

  4. I subscribed for a year, then cancelled because of the woke nonsense. Nicole Auerbach writing about the WNBA “democratizing beauty”? WTF.

    On their two year anniversary they posted “As our nation again tries to deal with the seemingly unsolvable problem of race and systemic racism after George Floyd’s murder, the vast majority of you have understood and applauded the need not to “stick to sports,” but to write about the raw feelings and advocacy that many athletes in town have discussed in recent months.”

    Cancelled soon after.

  5. I echo the sentiments of many commenters. I subscribe. The writing is good. They have great baseball coverage. But I can’t in good conscience support a website so devoted to ideals which destroy everything I believe in. Their “wokeness” is nauseating. I especially find it telling how they have attacked serial sex abusers (Mikey Callaway) but have been silent on the Deshaun Watson story. Racism anyone?

  6. Good! Fuck them! They were supposed to be sports. I made the mistake of signing up with a discount code for the year last year using a promo code that Jeff Gluck tweeted out at Daytona last year. What a complete waste of 30 or 40 bucks. It wasn’t their fault Covid happen but their most prominent writers went far woke it was just awful. Then to beat all they laid off people. So when football started I had followed WVU, Marshall, Alabama. Of course their were articles on Bama. There would be a hit and miss on WVU because they no longer had a beat writer. Marshall was well into a good run of being undefeated and the last story they had about them was July.

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