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When it first launched, sports-subscription website The Athletic puffed out its chest about covering every major sport locally and making business “extremely difficult” for daily sports sections around the country.
Well, clearly they didn’t mean covering every major sport.
Instead, many of the beats at The Athletic have suddenly gone dark, without explanation, as the struggling company enters its second year of buyer-seeking.
Co-founder Alex Mather initially touted The Athletic as a modern-day sports section that would “wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing,” but just the opposite has happened. The Athletic has found it extremely difficult to keep pace in daily coverage, and the ad-free business model has also forced the publication to burn through almost $100 million in the last two years alone, according to Front Office Sports.
Clearly, those losses and the uncertainty of The Athletic’s financial future have led to limited coverage of major teams in several notable markets.
For instance, The Athletic has not posted a staff story on the Denver Nuggets, a major contender in the NBA Western Conference, since June 14. Nor does it have a beat writer covering the NHL’s Florida Panthers, who are off to a 6-0 start this season, at all.
In addition, many of the other teams with so-called “beat reporters” for the NBA and NHL at The Athletic are mostly covered on a spot basis, not a traditional beat. Fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers have been been offered just five stories on their team in the last 12 days. Meanwhile, Cleveland.com has offered readers 25 stories on the Cavs in the same span.
Many writers on these beats have also been pulled off the road, especially those in the NHL. Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid is considered the best player in the NHL, but readers of The Athletic would probably never know it since its Edmonton writers don’t travel. The Athletic has also offered only occasional road coverage of the Calgary Flames, another franchise with a strong start and a passionate fan base.
Though very few of The Athletic’s NHL beat writers travel, many of the NBA writers do. They just do so sporadically. Very sporadically. The Boston Celtics beat appears to be off the road entirely, as The Athletic did not send its reporters to Charlotte or Houston this past weekend.
Granted, NHL and NBA locker rooms aren’t yet open to the media, so chasing teams on the road may not be a great value right now. But many beats from daily newspapers and other websites are still traveling, and The Athletic’s major college football beats have also essentially been shut down. There is no one covering Tennessee Volunteers football, for example. So seasonal interest doesn’t seem to be the driving force here.
So far, Mather and fellow co-founder Adam Hansmann — who launched The Athletic in 2016 with stars in their eyes and hopes of an eventual sale worth millions to a major media corporation, such as the New York Times — have kept silent about the beat lapses. Unlike years past, Mather and Hansmann haven’t recently bragged to their cronies in the media about The Athletic picking up another round of investors. Those days appear to be over.
As one of their investors told OutKick last month, “Anyone with money is wise to stay away. I’ve taken a beating.”
Per Front Office Sports, The Athletic has now gotten so desperate that it has hired investment banking firm LionTree to locate a buyer. Thus far, LionTree has met the same roadblocks as The Athletic did on its own.
It seems no one is willing to take a risk on a company that is bleeding millions, refusing to run advertising, and not covering major sports teams. Readers can get a lot more at a much lower rate elsewhere. So yes, it seems, potential buyers may be wise to keep away.