At the end of March, news broke that The Athletic was talking with Axios about merging. But apparently, that’s no longer on the table.
Per the Wall Street Journal, the Athletic/Axios merger talks have ended, and the company has turned its sights to a distinctly different entity: the New York Times, the epitome of old media.
Details of the potential acquisition are minimal at this point, and it would be tough to imagine the Times absorbing all of The Athletic’s lauded local coverage (and the added costs that go along with it) with a smile on their face. And if The Athletic’s local coverage disappears, or is severely reduced, as a result of a merger or acquisition, how many of the site’s million-plus subscribers will go along with it? And if that happens, how much value would the company actually have to a buyer?
It’s a tricky situation for a buyer. If you buy The Athletic, in part for its subscriber base, and don’t commit to maintaining (if not expanding) the coverage those subscribers are used to, how long will those subscribers stick around? And if there’s going to be churn with the subscriber base if you reduce coverage, would your original offer be as high?
If The Athletic does get sold, the ideal buyer has to be one that commits to the current level of coverage at a bare minimum. Otherwise, we’d be looking at a situation where cost cutting inevitably comes into play, the quality of the product would decline, subscriptions would fall, and your big acquisition looks like a disappointment.