The Athletic, which quickly came to prominence for publishing exclusive reporting and high-quality sports journalism, is getting a new owner. As first reported by The Information, The New York Times has agreed to buy the subscription-based digital media company for $550 million. The deal is expected to close by the end of March.
"Acquiring The Athletic puts us in a position to be a global leader in sports journalism and offer English speakers around the world another reason to turn to the Times Company to meet their daily news and life needs," The New York Times Company CEO Meredith Kopit Levien said in a statement. "The Times already provides distinctive sports coverage for a general interest audience as part of our core report. As a standalone product, The Athletic will enable us to offer much more — extensive coverage for fans who seek a deep connection to and understanding of their favorite teams, leagues and players."
The Times has set a goal of reaching 10 million subscribers by 2025 and it's well on the way. It had 8.3 million subscribers as of September 30th. Along with its digital and print publications, the Times has separate plans for its cooking and games (which includes crosswords) products. It bolstered its offerings in recent years by acquiring Wirecutter and placing the popular product review site behind a paywall.
The Athletic previously said it didn't expect to turn a profit until next year. It has 1.2 million subscribers, though its growth was reportedly slowing as of November. The Times held talks with the company last summer about a deal, according to reports, but it backed out before returning to the negotiating table last month.
The Athletic has a roster of talented, big-name sportswriters, many of whom it poached from publications across North America and the UK by offering competitive salaries. Back in 2017, co-founder Alex Mather told The Times (oddly enough) that his company "will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing” and "suck them dry of their best talent at every moment." Mather later apologized for those remarks.
Update 1/6 6:55PM ET: Added confirmation of the agreement.