A week after The Athletic’s sale to the New York Times, more details are emerging about the process that led to the sale.
Alex Sherman of CNBC wrote a good article on Friday about the sale, including a confirmation of a report from four years ago (!) that The Athletic looked into merging with FiveThirtyEight, prior to its move away from ESPN to ABC News. Sherman also reports that years ago, The Athletic weighed a merger with America’s Test Kitchen, which sure would have been a decision.
After the company hired investment bank Liontree last fall to find a buyer, several suitors emerged. One was DraftKings, which was reported as an option in November along with rival FanDuel, who declined they had interest. Another was Conde Nast, who had never been publicly tied to The Athletic. The third was Amazon.
Amazon, Conde Nast and DraftKings showed interest, according to people familiar with the matter. Amazon’s interest stemmed partially from its recent push into broadcasting games, including “Thursday Night Football,” one of the people said. Having a well-trafficked sports landing page to promote and analyze games was seen as providing synergies with the live game broadcasts. Spokespeople at Amazon, Conde Nast and DraftKings didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Last year, Amazon acquired the exclusive rights to the NFL’s Thursday Night Football starting with the 2022 season. Throwing another half a billion at The Athletic just to help create synergy there seems like a poor strategy.
None of those three companies really became a serious bidder, though private equity firm TPG did end up as an option. But eventually, the Times came back to the table, and a deal got done, months after talks fell apart with The Athletic then valued at $500 million.