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The Athletic Co-Founders Explain Selling to The New York Times

“The New York Times won us over. They won us over in their mission, in how we fit into that mission, and how important we are to their mission.”

Jordan Bondurant

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The sports journalism world began 2022 with a bit of a shock when news broke of the acquisition of The Athletic by the New York Times.

The Athletic grew to prominence not only by hiring some of the most well-known reporters in the industry, but by also hosting content on a website free of advertising.

But eventually it seemed like being ad-free, combined with slowing subscription growth, was a hindrance in the company being profitable. Financial reports from the past several years indicate that The Athletic operated at a loss.

Did that serve as the primary reason for co-founders Adam Hansmann and Alex Mather to sell? In an interview with CNBC’s Alex Sherman, Mather said it came down to how the Times presented a vision for The Athletic’s future.

“For us, the simple version of ‘why sell?’ is: The New York Times won us over,” he said. “They won us over in their mission, in how we fit into that mission, and how important we are to their mission, and how they can really supercharge what we’re doing. And we fell in love with the idea, and our board was supportive.”

The Athletic logo

The deal took some time to complete and at one point, Hansmann and Mather walked away from negotiations with both Axios and the Times. But towards the end of 2021, Mather said an opportunity for The Athletic to be a part of the portfolio of journalism the Times offers to readers made the most sense.

“Things change quite quickly,” he said. “You know, we took a year and a half from that moment and really, you know, evaluated all of our options and in the end felt like The New York Times was the best home for the company.”

The understanding at this point is that The Athletic will continue to operate as a standalone product under the Times umbrella, and then it will be offered in subscription bundles for the paper. Mather added being a marquee puzzle piece in providing worldwide sports coverage will be supremely appealing to subscribers.

“If you think about the essential news bundle in the world, you add in what The New York Times does in world news, politics, science, I can go on forever,” he said. “And then you think about what we do for the sports fans who live anywhere in the world. That is absolutely an essential bundle.”

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Russell Dorsey Joins Yahoo Sports

The addition of Dorsey is the latest transaction made by Yahoo Sports to bolster its MLB coverage ahead of first pitch for the 2024 season.

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Russell Dorsey
Courtesy: La Vida Baseball

Russell Dorsey announced that he will be joining Yahoo Sports as its national insider for Major League Baseball. Dorsey shared the news on social media while attaching a video and thanked various executives with the company. Later on Tuesday, Dorsey published his first story for the company outlining what he believes are the five best moves from the Major League Baseball offseason excluding Shohei Ohtani, the two-way superstar who inked a record-breaking 10-year, $700 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The addition of Dorsey is the latest transaction made by Yahoo Sports to bolster its MLB coverage ahead of first pitch for the 2024 season. Yahoo Sports added the “Céspedes Family BBQ” duo of Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman onto its editorial team, which renders them responsible for producing audio, visual and written content pertaining to the sport. Within his social media post, Dorsey shared his excitement to work alongside Mintz and Shusterman in his new role.

“As a baseball fan, I can’t wait to see the ways in which Russ, Jake and Jordan will shape and elevate our coverage of America’s Pastime,” Sam Farber, head of content at Yahoo Sports, said in a LinkedIn post.

Dorsey recently served in a role by the same title for Bally Sports and also served as a co-host of The Rally alongside Brooke Fletcher. He was laid off by the regional sports network cluster after just over two years with the outlet, a role he balanced with his responsibilities for Apple TV+ on its Friday Night Baseball property.

Dorsey previously worked as a contributing writer for Forbes, responsible for covering the NBA and MLB by writing features, columns and analysis. Additionally, he worked as a contributing writer for Baseball Prospectus where he primarily focused on the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and facets of Major League Baseball. Dorsey has also had work published by the Chicago Tribune and The Daily Herald throughout his career in sports media.

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Sports Podcasting Company Blue Wire Raises Additional Funding

Blue Wire’s library of content features personalities such as Lolo Jones, Chris Long and Gilbert Arenas among others.

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Blue Wire

Blue Wire founder Kevin Jones has told Axios the sports podcasting company has raised new funding from Decathlon Capital. Jones did not offer more details on the total amount raised or the valuation it was based on.

Blue Wire had raised over $200,000 in a community fundraising round last year. Blue Wire was founded in 2018 and has raised $12 million since 2020. The company has primarily received its funding from former athletes, including former NBA guard Baron Davis, along with venture capitalists and Wynn Resorts. 

Jones said the investment from Decathlon would primarily be used for building proprietary technology to help podcasters run their businesses, hiring more salespeople and recruiting additional content creators.

Blue Wire’s library of content features personalities such as Lolo Jones, Chris Long and Gilbert Arenas among others.

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Richard Deitsch Forewarns Media Companies of ‘Athlete Generated Content’

“Athletes now have become their own media distributors, and now that content is competing against everybody else…It makes the space more challenging.”

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Richard Deitsch of The Athletic
Courtesy: Pat Mayo Experience

One sports media reporter has a message for established media entities — get ready for the age of “athlete-generated content.” During an appearance on The Pat Mayo Experience, Richard Deitsch of The Athletic discussed a variety of topics, including athlete-led production companies and how athletes can eschew traditional media companies and tell their own stories using their own production outfits. Deitsch cites players like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Jason and Travis Kelce as athletes with their own platforms to distribute their messaging.

“Athletes now have become their own media distributors,” Deitsch said. “Whether it’s production companies owned by LeBron, the Kelce brothers have their own massive podcast entity now, Kevin Durant’s got his own production company, Steph Curry does…and that’s one thing that’s very, very new, is athlete-generated content, and now that content is competing against everybody else. It makes the space more challenging because there’s only so many advertising dollars to go around.”

LeBron James and Maverick Carter started SpringHill Company in 2020 and have since produced multiple fiction and non-fiction films, including What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Hustle, and Black Ice, among others. It also serves as the production company behind The Shop, LeBron and Carter’s pseudo-podcast where they interview guests and discuss current events in a barbershop environment.

Meanwhile, Durant co-owns Boardroom along with his business partner Rich Kleiman, a sports media and entertainment brand that features “premium video/audio, editorial, daily and weekly newsletters, showcasing how athletes, executives, musicians, and creators are moving the business world forward.” It is home to the Netflix property Two Distant Strangers, SWAGGER on Apple TV+, and the Emmy-nominated Showtime documentary NYC Point Gods.

Jason and Travis Kelce broke into the podcasting game during the 2022-23 season with their show New Heights, the name an homage to the pair’s hometown Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Last season, the show quickly rose to the top of the charts thanks to the pair’s obvious chemistry and the success of both teams. However, this season saw the podcast reach new heights (pun sort of intended) thanks to a budding romance between Travis and pop star Taylor Swift.

Travis used New Heights as a way to discuss the ongoing season while giving his growing audience a peek behind the curtain regarding his relationship. When asked about the show, Travis said, “The only way I’d do the show was with my brother,” while Jason has echoed similar sentiments in the past, crediting the show for improving the brothers’ relationship.

Possibly the largest athlete-owned production company that Deitsch failed to mention is Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions, the company behind Peyton’s Place, Eli’s Places, and of course, the wildly popular “ManningCast” alternate Monday Night Football broadcast. Omaha has been adding new content for years thanks to the partnership with ESPN.

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