Sources: The Athletic Facing Changes As 'The Well Is Running Dry'

With subscriptions plummeting and renewal rates suffering, the future of The Athletic is on shaky ground, several high-profile investors of the sports subscription website said in ongoing conversations with OutKick.

“It's been a pretty rough go lately, and I strongly suspect they will look a lot different in 2022," one source familiar with The Athletic's financials told OutKick.

One investor sounded equally uncertain about the immediate future, telling OutKick that "a shakeup" to The Athletic's current business strategy is likely on the way.

Co-founders Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann launched The Athletic in 2016 as an ad-free website that generates its entire revenue from subscriptions. It offers both localized and national sports coverage.

Multiple reports said The Athletic and news website Axios have recently held preliminary talks on a potential merger, and investors confirmed to OutKick that those talks have taken place. None, however, were willing to offer details or updates on those discussions.

One source did say that without a merger or buyer, The Athletic could turn into "strictly a national media outlet" and do away with the local sites, or cut back to just one reporter in each of the current local locations.

The Athletic staff consists of more than 300 employees, boasting an impressive roster of well-known national writers that includes Michael Lombardi (NFL), Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark (MLB), and Shams Charania and David Aldridge (NBA). It also has a UK edition.

Per reports, it has raised around $140 million over five rounds of funding. As of August 2019, it has approximately 600,000 subscribers with an 80% retention rate year-over-year.

But those numbers have since dwindled considerably, investors said, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as at least partially responsible. Also, one investor told OutKick that some of The Athletic writers' decision to "dabble in political discourse" on social media may be "off-putting" to paying subscribers, leading to cancellations or decisions not to renew.

“The money from the (investor funding) sounds like a lot of money, but it's really not when you consider how much is being spent on salaries and travel expenses," one high-ranking employee at The Athletic told OutKick. "When you factor in that there is no advertising and subscriptions are dropping ... I fear that the well is running dry."