Interview Synopsis

The Athletic – digital sports media positioning & potential sale

  • Private Equity
  • Consumer
  • North America

The Athletic should look to increase subscriptions by creating more content rather than lowering its price, a former manager at The Athletic told Third Bridge Forum, as rumours continue to build around a potential acquisition of the platform.

Is sports betting partnership a gamble for The Athletic?

The Interview – which began with an outlook of the sports media landscape over the next 12-18 months – covered The Athletic’s position in the sports media market, its debate over subscription and advertising, and its recent partnership with betting company BetMGM.

Traditional sports journalism has been impacted over the past 12-18 months, the specialist said, as sports stars look to control “their message” and competition increases for live events with more pay-per-view offerings.

These changes come at an “interesting time” for The Athletic, which has had a “good strategy” over the years in taking control of local markets and providing local sports coverage. The challenge now is to move “beyond that” whilst still keeping its identity, the specialist said. 

This would require taking on the “800-pound beast” of ESPN, as well as strengthening its position against smaller outlets like Bleacher Report, The Ringer, Barstool and SB Nation. But to do that, the specialist said The Athletic would need to offer more products, such as video and highlights packages, like the competition already does.

As well as increasing content, the specialist said offering gaming and sports betting content would also attract more subscriptions.

Entering the sports betting landscape is part of The Athletic’s long-term strategy, they added, highlighted by its recent partnership with BetMGM. The specialist said there were no “inherent negatives” to the partnership, which comes as the US largely legalises the sports gambling market, although they questioned whether there were as many benefits being an agnostic platform on sports betting.

More sports betting coverage might also challenge The Athletic’s core values and change its content, something the specialist said could impact core consumers, who are “devoted and deeply involved” with the media outlet. 

The Athletic is currently “The New Yorker of sports”, the specialist said, but whether its latest partnership can turn it into a CNN, New York Times or Wall Street Journal, remains an open question.  

To access all the human insights in The Athletic – digital sports media positioning & potential sale, click here to view the full transcript.

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