Pete Thamel on a January 2024 ESPN broadcast. Houston, TX – January 8, 2024 – NRG Stadium: Peter Thamel on the set of Championship Drive during the 2024 College Football Playoff National Championship. (Photo by Joshua R. Gateley / ESPN Images)

One of the most controversial topics in the sports and journalism worlds in 2024 is private equity. Private equity firms have taken significant ownership stakes in leagues, teams, and media outlets, and they’ve provided some useful funding to those organizations. But the private equity focus on growth, and often on quick short-term growth, has led to a lot of criticism, especially when it comes to media layoffs. So a “As college sports faces more change, is private equity money coming in?” story from ESPN’s Pete Thamel Friday drew some criticism, especially with how Thamel promoted it on Twitter/X:

Here’s some of that criticism for Thamel and his piece:

This was not just about the way Thamel discussed the piece on Twitter. The entire piece was neutral-to-good comments on private equity and what it might be able to bring to college sports, with no space given to critics of private equity models. A few of the comments from the piece:

“It’s a way of doing business that college athletics has never really engaged in,” said a Power Five athletic director familiar with the space. “In the professional world, it’s common practice — for facilities, projects and payments.”

…”There’s four or five venture capital companies all circling,” said another industry source. “These are big-time places that will come in. It means that if these guys are circling, it means we’re not maximizing our revenue.”

…When asked specifically about private equity being part of college sports, [ Syracuse chancellor Kent] Syverud told ESPN: “I don’t have a philosophical objection to almost anyone who wants to be part of the solution or can be a part of the solution. That includes legislators, that includes NIL boosters, private equity and it includes college presidents and athletic directors.

“I don’t look at private equity as perfect or evil. I think we have to look at all the different pieces of the problem. There’s a significant financial piece to this.”

Thamel is certainly entitled to write what he wants and platform the sources he wants. But the lack of platform he provided for any critic of the private equity approach is telling, especially for many who have seen the layoff-heavy results often seen around private equity firms’ investments in journalism enterprises. And when this neutral-to-good take is the featured part of the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader In Sports’ take on the subject of private equity in college sports, with no room for critical views, that’s going to lead to criticism. And the criticisms featured above are only a small part of the backlash this piece drew for Thamel and ESPN.


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.