Given our preternatural attraction to “round numbers,” the dawn of the new decade has prompted a lot of retrospectives about the things that have changed over the past 10 years. The sports media industry – and media writ-large has been completely reshaped by the evolution and democratization of the internet. The latter half of the 2010’s saw the blood-letting of talent across traditional media outlets like Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and The New York Daily News – creating a wave of consolidation and opportunities for upstarts like The Athletic to fill the void left in its’ wake. This proverbial game of musical chairs with storied sports media brands finding new corporate parents has also given rise to a new wave of opportunists looking to scoop up these brands for a fraction of what they would have cost a decade ago.
Among the most active such opportunists is London-based Minute Media, which has been acquiring domestic sports media brands including Jason McIntyre’s The Big Lead and Derek Jeter’s The Player’s Tribune, at a fervent pace. The company continues to expand its roster of properties, as it announced the acquisition of the FanSided blog network from Meredith Corporation for a reported $15 million, which apparently is content to off-load as many sports assets as possible that they acquired as part of their 2018 acquisition of Time, Inc. This move comes on the heels of the $110 million deal it struck with Authentic Brands Group to sell all of Sports Illustrated’s intellectual property.
This trend of consolidation within the sports media space underscores the difficulty associated with building a traditional ad-supported media business. The entities that have been successful to date have either opted to be completely subscriber-supported a la the aforementioned Athletic or that have a robust enough monetization infrastructure or complementary traffic/audience sources to make the economics work. Minute Media is a prime example of the latter strategy as it doesn’t make sense to have just one brand or property anymore – you need a network of inventory to bundle/package together to sell to advertisers. In an impression-based business, where there is more competition than ever for advertising dollars , it only makes sense to maximize the amount of impressions and eyeballs you can deliver to advertisers.
FanSided in particular is the prime example of such a strategy as the network originally sprung up as a community-driven site dedicated to Kansas City Chiefs fans but then quickly grew through a network of enthusiastic (and cost-effective) contributors such that there eventually became a dedicated FanSided blog site for virtually every fan community across sports. Minute Media’s President, Rich Routman sees the FanSided acquisition as another key piece of Minute’s overarching strategy to create amplified distribution for its’ content. According to Routman, the acquisition is expected to help the company eclipse over $100 million in revenue this year.
In spite of the name value attached to the brands that Minute Media has scooped up over the past year, it’s hard to say that any of them rise to the level of being “premier” sports media brands, which leads one to wonder whether any of them will ever be worth the sticker price. The company reportedly is sitting on some interesting proprietary technology that it licenses to other publication outlets, that it is apparently depending on to increase revenue for properties like The Player’s Tribune, which Minute Media CEO Asaf Peled expects to grow by 50% in the year ahead.
As more and more outlets seek to find there footing in an increasingly crowded space, consolidation seems to be the only way some of these brands can continue to survive. Surely, someone will figure out a more dependable/attractive business model in the decade ahead, but in the interim the beat goes on.