The New York Times Co.’s acquisition of The Athletic Media Co., a digital subscription-based sports media outlet, bolstered its strategy of increasing paid subscribers. In the last three years, The Times has doubled paid subscriptions across digital and print products to more than eight million. As of December 2021, The Athletic had 1.2 million subscribers. The Times acquired it in January of this year in an all cash deal valued at $550 million.

Rounding Out Sports Coverage

The Athletic’s coverage gives The Times increased breadth and depth in sports content and new, unique subscribers. While it covers sports, The Times tends to focus on national and global events. The Athletic, which was founded in 2016, offers in-depth, long-form sports journalism that caters to the die-hard “local” fan. The addition of The Athletic to The Times’ portfolio also provides additional bundling options, which is another driver of increased subscribers.

The Athletic will operate as a stand-alone business for the foreseeable future. It will be able to maintain its unique culture and at the same time operate with the added resources and experience of The New York Times Co.

The Challenges

Moving the deal forward expeditiously was challenging on several fronts. San Francisco-based The Athletic is a relatively lean operation and as is often the case, it is difficult to run a business and manage a sale process at the same time. In addition, the transaction involved scores of lawyers including separate outside counsel in Canada and Australia. It touched on complex areas of the law in multiple countries such as cybersecurity, data privacy, executive compensation, tax and licensing, among others.

The deal also made the news prematurely on more than one occasion. The leaks were a concern during the process as they were largely inaccurate, according to the buyer’s lawyers. Finding itself the subject of news, The New York Times Co. addressed the leaks by consistently refusing to comment on speculative articles.

For more Deals of the Year coverage, see Mergers and Acquisitions Reveals the 2022 Middle-Market Deals of the Year.