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The New York Times Is Buying The Athletic and Questions Abound

What will this change about the biggest sports journalism subscription?

Do I need to pay for the New York Times and The Athletic now? Should be able to cancel one? Sorry—trying to consolidate. Let's talk about the big news.

The New York Times is going to buy The Athletic in a deal valued at $550 million. This story was first reported by Jessica Toonkel at The Information.

"The New York Times Co has agreed to acquire subscription sports site The Athletic in a deal valued at around $550 million, according to a person familiar with the situation. The deal is a major acquisition for the Times, giving it a new pocket of subscription customers to the New York Times, which has set an ambitious goal of reaching 10 million subscribers by 2025. As of Sept 30, the Times reported 8.3 million digital and print subscribers."

An Eventuality

The Athletic has been looking to get bought for a while. There was a rumored deal attempting to be made with Axios that never came to fruition. The Athletic's owners had been raising money for some time, hoping to attract investors. Now The Athletic, which is a paragon of the modern subscription, specialist model media, is to be bought by the very gold standard of old media: The New York Times. This irony gets thicker than old oatmeal when this quote from Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann, the Athletic founders, is remembered. 

“We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing,” Alex Mather, a co-founder of The Athletic, said in an interview in San Francisco. “We will suck them dry of their best talent at every moment. We will make business extremely difficult for them.”

What was the name of the article this quote is from? It was called "Why The Athletic Wants To Pillage Newspapers." This is so juicy, it belongs on "Old Takes Exposed." 

Restoring Balance To the Force

Athletic's subscription model was an insurgency. It was a force to witness the publication seemingly poach every good beat writer from every major city. For a while, it truly did seem like The Athletic was going to swallow every model of 'old media' in its path like a black hole. Now that it has been bought out by the very pinnacle of old media, there is a fitting feeling like finding the last piece of a puzzle.

There are a ton of unanswered questions. Will employees of The Athletic be worried about their jobs? Is The New York Times really interested in keeping their business model going? As mentioned before, will the cost of both services be folded into one? The obvious observation that can be made is an old media giant now inheriting 1.2 million subscribers and a database that can be plundered and milked. There has been an increased effort from The Athletic in recent months on the audio side of their media, through podcasts especially, and one has to wonder whether the New York Times has any interest at all in keeping that.

For now, the questions outweigh the answers.