Citing “sources familiar with the deal,” the Axios report notes that The Athletic now has raised 139.5 million since its 2016 launch and is valued at “roughly” $500 million.
“The Athletic is considered an anomaly in digital media upstarts because it's focused on subscription revenue rather than advertising revenue,” Axios reporter Sara Fischer wrote. “Investors say they remain bullish on the company's ability to keep growing because it's been able to grow its subscriber base quickly, especially overseas, while retaining existing customers.”
The Athletic has hired some of the biggest names in sports media, such as NFL insider Jay Glazer, MLB reporter Ken Rosenthal, NBA reporters Shams Charania and David Aldridge and sports media critic Richard Deitsch, often poaching from long-established media brands. The company also tends to hire talented sports journalists who lose their jobs amid layoffs at legacy media brands.
As a result, The Athletic has been praised for its original reporting and has broken some of the biggest stories in sports media. The site recently blew the whistle on the Major League Baseball cheating scandal with an exclusive report that resulted in three managers losing their jobs.
Fischer reported that the latest round of funding was led by Bedrock Capital. Actor Matthew McConaughey even participated. The cash will reportedly be used to grow the company overseas.
The Athletic co-founder Adam Hansmann told Axios that the company is expected to “become profitable in 2020 and says it will soon hit a million subscribers” worldwide. The company’s website promises a “clutter-free experience” that doesn’t feature advertisements, relying on a paywall instead – which editor-in-chief James Mirtle explained in a blog post.
“Journalists are not losing their jobs because they are bad at what they do. The No. 1 killer of newspapers and websites – and radio and television appear to be next – is ad rates, in print and online,” Mirtle wrote. “The Athletic is different. We are not ESPN or TSN, who can have auto-play video ads and push customers to their cable networks for major sources of revenue. We’re focused on fans who want high quality, in-depth coverage of their teams, content that isn’t designed to service advertisers or clicks.”