The Athletic

When news broke that Maven would be making major staff reductions at Sports Illustrated upon taking over, there was plenty of justified anger both internally at SI and externally throughout media.

Maven was clearly making cuts in order to turn their new property into a cheap content farm based entirely around their own “established” network of sites, using up whatever cachet of respectability the Sports Illustrated brand had left as a shortcut to Google traffic. It hasn’t exactly gone well so far, which wasn’t tough to predict at the time.

Now, according to NBC News media reporter Dylan Byers, we know that at least one other bid was attempted that could have seen SI and the staff end up in a more favorable spot.

From today’s edition of his Byers Market newsletter:

Moving the Market: Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann, the co-founders of the burgeoning sports news site The Athletic, tried to acquire the licensing rights to the Sports Illustrated media business after it became evident that Maven intended to turn the storied magazine into a content farm, sources familiar with the Athletic’s offer tell me.

The big picture: The Athletic’s offer, which was at a premium on Maven’s deal, would have given Sports Illustrated the opportunity to sustain and even grow its journalistic operation. Instead, Maven has cut roughly half of the editorial staff and plans to hire freelancers who will be paid based on their ability to drive traffic.

The bid could not have come at a later moment, though, with Byers reporting it was submitted the same day that layoffs were announced.

In early October, around the same time the Maven layoffs were announced, Mather and Hansmann got in touch with the bankers who were handling the agreement and offered to pay $50 million for the licensing rights — an 11% premium on the Maven deal, the sources said.

Mather and Hansmann’s plan was to upsell Sports Illustrated print subscribers to the digital Athletic product, allowing them to continue supporting the journalists it would have acquired in the deal.

That is a deal that Sports Illustrated staff would likely have preferred. The day of the layoffs, NPR obtained a petition signed by roughly three-quarters of the journalists there asking Authentic to abandon the Maven deal.

When you factor in acquiring the SI subscription base and data, it makes a lot of sense for The Athletic, though apparently not so much sense they were willing to do anything before the very last moment, even though the likely intentions of the incoming management team were fairly obvious from the start.

An incredibly cynical observer might point out that despite never really making a timely, legitimate effort, The Athletic is now receiving praise like this:

That’s not to suggest what Byers is reporting is incorrect, of course. Just that the facts don’t suggest a selfless crusade to preserve a respected journalistic outfit anymore than they suggest attempting to scoop up an asset on the cheap at the last minute with an offer that wouldn’t have been considered if it weren’t for how poorly things were going.

It certainly would have been better than SI ending up with Maven, though.

[Byers Market]

About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a writer and editor for The Comeback, and a contributor at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer.