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Several high-profile writers at The Athletic are fearing for their jobs after a report that the sports subscription website has been purchased by the New York Times.
OutKick spoke to two national writers and two local editors who said they are concerned about their future with the company, should a Times purchase go through. Several other editorial employees contacted by OutKick refused to comment, though one high-profile writer did admit that “we’ve been on shaky ground for a while now.”
According to Jessica Toonkel of The Information, the Times is on the brink of buying The Athletic for $550 million. This comes after previous failed talks between the sides about a Times takeover, as well as The Athletic’s prior flirtations with news website Axios, which went nowhere.
The Times later confirmed the deal and admitted it plans to take a financial hit for the next three years, at least.
Industry insiders told OutKick the Times’ purchase of The Athletic is not likely to involve guaranteed cash — leading to the fears about potential layoffs.
“Obviously, you’re always nervous with news like this,” one national writer told OutKick. “It could turn out to be nothing, not impact us at all. Or maybe it’s good news. But that’s not usually how it works. People usually lose jobs.”
A second high-profile writer has mixed feelings about the report.
“I mean, the New York Times is a pretty established place, so you want to believe it would be business as usual,” the writer told OutKick. “At the same time, (The Athletic) owners have seemed pretty desperate to get out from under this for, what, at least a year. That’s never a good sign.”
When asked if there’s reason to be concerned about the future of The Athletic under the Times, a national editor told OutKick, “Anyone who hasn’t been concerned about their future here since like 2019 is lying to themselves.”
Another editor at The Athletic provided OutKick with the names and contact information of several other well-known writers who are currently looking for work elsewhere, as they too are said to be afraid of what the future might hold. Only one of those writers has responded, saying, “I haven’t heard much and don’t want to go on record, but rumors are that changes are coming.”
Meanwhile, Toonkel brought up another interesting point: “The big question is how the Times can integrate The Athletic without squeezing its bottom line too much. The Athletic has said it doesn’t expect to be profitable until 2023, thanks to its hefty staff.”
As it stands, The Athletic provides ad-free local and national coverage in 47 North American cities, as well as the United Kingdom. It has long hailed itself as focusing on a mix of long-form sports journalism, original reporting and thorough analysis. It claims to have more than 400 editorial employees in all. But a subscription-only model has proven not to be profitable, as The Athletic reportedly lost $41 million last year alone.
“The Athletic’s ownership has been raising money and considering an exit for years, and their recent shifts in strategy (especially on the audio side) felt designed to open up new streams of revenue and demonstrate that there’s growth to be had beyond the pure subscription model that had been their calling card since inception,” wrote Jay Rigdon of Awful Announcing.
Back in 2017, co-founder Alex Mather created a stir by basically saying The Athletic intended to put newspaper sports sections out of business.
“We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing,” Mather said. “We will suck them dry of their best talent at every moment. We will make business extremely difficult for them.”
Instead, it is a newspaper that is giving The Athletic a chance to cling to life. What The Athletic will look like once a deal is in place, however, is a different matter entirely.
“I’m hoping for the best but expecting something probably a lot less than that,” the second high-profile writer told OutKick, before laughing. “I just hope you’re still asking me questions about my employment at The Athletic a year from now. But … I don’t know if that will be the case. None of us do.”