The Athletic

After countless rounds of expansion, The Athletic is now contracting in a big way. The site announced layoffs of 46 people, almost eight percent of its staff, Friday in an internal memo. Sara Fischer has more details on the cuts at Axios:

  • A spokesperson confirmed the cuts to Axios: “With sports on pause due to the ongoing pandemic, today we made the difficult decision to reduce the size of our staff in select coverage areas, affecting approximately eight percent of employees.”
  • “While we are hopeful that sports will soon resume, this measure was necessary to ensure that the company can weather the uncertainty that lies ahead. Overall, our subscriber base remains steady and we are proud of our newsroom’s continuing coverage of the return of sports.”

In a memo to the company, co-founder and CEO Alex Mather said that in addition to the layoffs, The Athletic will be implementing pay cuts across the staff, with most people being asked to take a 10% pay reduction for the rest of the year.

…Mather notes that the layoffs and pay cuts are a last resort and that the company did try to control burn “through reduced travel, freelance cutbacks, extreme cutbacks on marketing spend, and deep pay cuts for our entire HQ leadership team.”

Here are some of the people who have announced that they’ve been let go, starting with Atlanta Falcons writer Jason Butt:

Arizona Cardinals writer Scott Bordow:

Tennessee Titans writer John Glennon:

Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers writer Brett Dawson:

Lakers’ writer/video breakdown analyst Pete Zayas:

Enterprise writer Tom Reed:

Boxing writer Rafe Bartholomew:

Miami Heat and Miami Marlins writer Andre Fernandez:

Auburn writer Justin Ferguson:

Texas beat writer Kaelen Jones:

Boise State writer Dave Southorn:

Xavier writer Shannon Russell:

Louisville writer Danielle Lerner and Indiana/Purdue/Butler college basketball writer Dustin Dopirak:

Arkansas writer Kelli Stacy:

Podcast producer Rob Lopez:

San Antonio Spurs writer Matthew Tynan:

Phoenix Suns writer Gina Mizell:

Charlotte Hornets writer Rod Boone:

Philadelphia 76ers/NBA writer Mike O’Connor:

Florida Panthers writer George Richards:

Montreal Canadiens/NHL enterprise writer Sean Gordon:

Montreal Canadiens/Laval Rocket writer Marc Dumont:

Buffalo Sabres writer Joe Yerdon:

Winnipeg Jets writer Ken Wiebe:

Arizona Coyotes writer Craig Morgan:

Fantasy writer Chris Meaney:

As per Ohio State writer Ari Wasserman (who has not been laid off), NCAA editor Mike Hugenin has been laid off:

MMA writers Josh Gross, Chuck Mindenhall, and Chad Dundas have also been laid off, as has editor Dann Stupp:

DC/Baltimore editor Kevin Spain was laid off as well:

This is not the first round of layoffs and shifts we’ve seen from The Athletic. For example, their highly-publicized video team was gutted in February with Armen Keteyian, Alan Goldberg and Victor Frank all leaving, as well as national managing editor Melissa Geisler. They also laid off motorsports analyst David Smith in May, a year after his hiring as part of that new vertical. And they’ve made dramatic pivots with soccer (in April 2019, they hired five full-time writers, but axed many of the freelancers who were covering specific MLS teams) and women’s basketball (they made a big deal of launching a WNBA vertical with a beat writer for every team in May 2019, but those writers were freelancers, and they were axed just before this year’s WNBA draft along with many of the company’s other freelancers).

But this latest round of layoffs is particularly notable for scale (46 people at once is massive, and by far the largest round of layoffs the site has done) and for cross-sports scope. And these layoffs come after the company raised an additional $50 million in a Series D funding round that ended in January, bringing their total money raised since their 2016 launch to $139.5 million and their valuation to around $500 million. And yes, The Athletic is only one of many companies parting ways with employees amidst the economic downturn around the COVID-19 pandemic (Entercom, Maven/Sports Illustrated, and Vox/SB Nation are a few of the ones with notable cuts), but it’s interesting to see them making big cuts considering that they’re not heavily hit by the advertising market downturn (as their site is subscription-based and doesn’t have advertising).

The Athletic has certainly run into challenges gaining new subscribers and keeping existing ones with no live sports. But their writers have done well to produce a lot of important content on sports leagues’ plans to return (in particular, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich have led the way on MLB’s various return plans and the clashes between players and owners there), as well as other creative and historical projects, and there are still plenty of reasons to read the site or to sign up for it. Also, many of their subscriptions are annual, so while they’ve likely taken some notable hits on the month-to-month subscriber front, they would seem to have some cushion that others don’t (especially after that latest round of fundraising, and especially with no sports-related travel for months). So it’s definitely interesting to see them making cuts of this scale. And this further adds to what’s already a dark time in the sports media landscape.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.