The Athletic Considering Ads, Limiting Paywall As Money Continues To Burn

Sports-subscription website The Athletic is so desperate for a buyer that it is considering things it once promised it stood firmly against — gobs of free content and allowing advertising.

After all, it’s strictly a subscription site, founded to bleed every newspaper sports section dry, as co-founder Alex Mather said back in 2017. It has never run advertising, and that has been a major part of its marketing. Yes, you have to pay for sports content you can get elsewhere for free, The Athletic always promised. But at least we don’t have those annoying ads.

Fast forward to reality. After puffing out its chest and boasting that it would change sports content in the digital age, all The Athletic is really doing is bleeding money. Talks with the New York Times have failed (twice), as have merger talks with troubled news website Axios.

Sources told OutKick that The Athletic has also had the door slammed firmly in its face by several other large media companies with which it attempted to partner.

Along with that, someone from The Athletic — likely a broke investor — even floated a story that fantasy sports king FanDuel was among those with interest in buying the site. It was a lie, and that comes straight from the FanDuel CEO. (FanDuel is a partner with OutKick.)

Worse, The Athletic recently hired former ESPN personality Michelle Beadle. This was as transparent a move as it gets, designed to do nothing more than appeal to potential buyers. Look how great we still are, The Athletic seemed to scream.

Truth is, no one has had even a slight interest in bringing Beadle aboard since ESPN decided to move on from her two years ago. But financially desperate as it is, The Athletic has tried to sell the hire as a splash.

So on to the next idea of more free content in front of the paywall, as well as placing advertising in stories, as Bloomberg first relayed.

Mather, for his part, always talks a big game. And his writers have pals in the media that are always willing to help sell the false narrative that things are going great. But Mather, co-founder Alex Hansmann and The Athletic’s team of investors have reached desperate times.

One high-ranking employee even told OutKick, “We almost fold every six months.” And if things don’t change and The Athletic doesn’t completely rearrange its business model or find a buyer, there are going to be a lot of extremely talented sportswriters looking for work by the end of 2022.

That is basically where The Athletic is today. It is reaching out for a lifeline from someone who has the financial means to save it from itself.

And unless it finds some sucker out there to invest in a failing product, not even ads and free content are likely to do the trick.

Written by Sam Amico

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


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  1. I “was” a TheAthletic subscriber since DayOn but have recently unsubscribed (but still have access, I suppose, so they can still count me as a subscriber). My #1 reason to subscribe was to get away from annoying “pop ups” and ad videos I can’t shut off. HATE’em! I never have a problem with banner ads and/or a column of ads down one side … which I can/do easily ignore.

    The Athletic writers that I follow are NOT Woke Terrorists, otherwise I would not follow them… DUH! I also enjoy the long form writing not encumbered by an editor’s “word count”.

    • While I wouldn’t refer to the them as “woke terrorists,” Seth Davis, Stewart Mandel, and several other writers are certainly woke. Outkick is the only sports site I’ll give my money to. If I click a link for another site and get a paywall, I simply close the window and find something else to read.

      • Add Ken Rosenthal and Peter Gammons to their “woke” contingent. I simply don’t follow any of’em. The format by which I can pick/choose which writers to follow does the weeding out for me.

        I ONLY watch College GameDay on ESPN. The ESPN “suits” are smart enough to keep any Wokeness and All politics off of GameDay. I’m sure all the “Jesus” signs in the crowd background must really piss’em off in Bristol. LOL.

  2. I subscribed to The Athletic for 4 years. I left after the wokeness got to be too much.

    At the end of the day, The Athletic will ALWAYS be woke. What’s the difference between them and the Four Letter Network if they go to some free content and ads? None.

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