Digital sports media startup The Athletic has raised $50 million in its Series D funding round, bringing the total raised to date to $139.5 million since its 2016 launch, reports Axios. The funding round was led by Bedrock Capital with participation from Emerson Collective, Powerhouse Capital, Matthew McConaughey, Plus Capital, Founders Fund, Evolution Media and Y Combinator. The Athletic told Axios it would use the money to expand overseas. The company is currently valued at approximately $500 million. They aren’t a unicorn yet, but they are halfway there.
Since The Athletics launch four years ago, it has attracted close to 1 million subscribers from the U.S., Canada and the U.K., and it has 500 full-time employees, including 85 at the companys San Francisco headquarters. The company hopes to become profitable in 2020.
“We’re starting to see that our bundle is very unique. Subscribers can access journalism about different leagues and sports all in one place at a depth that they can’t get anywhere else, said co-founder Alex Mather in an interview with Axios.
The Athletic, which boasts an 80% retention rate, offers ad-free sports coverage in dozens of cities. Its sportswriters cover a wide range of sports including NHL, MLB, NFL, NBA, CFP, CBB, Soccer, motorsports, MMA, boxing, golf, WNBA, womens college basketball and more. A subscription to The Athletic costs $35.99 per year for the first year and $59.99 per year thereafter, if billed annually, or $9.99 a month, if billed monthly. Gift plans and student plans are also available.
In exchange for subscription fees, subscribers receive exclusive sports coverage, including breaking stories like the Houston Astros winning the 2017 World Series by cheating, how the Kansas State-Kansas game ended in a brawl, stories about the 2020 Hall of Fame election, in-depth coverage of local teams, and a customizable mobile app.
In its own words, The Athletic says their sportswriters provide, smarter sports coverage for die-hard fans. The digital sports media site goes beyond the box score with quality local and national sports coverage from an all-star team of writers. No ads, no clickbait – only stories with substance.
It is worth every penny. They have the best sportswriters and the content is real and filter-free. Not having to deal with video ads and pop-ups is awesome. Its a no brainer, said Sean Proctor of San Jose, California in a testimonial.
We wrote our first story about The Athletic in January 2017, who had raised $2.1 million in seed funding. Initially, they covered sports in just two markets: Chicago and Toronto. In their first year, the company amassed thousands of subscribers in the Chicago and Toronto markets with only a handful of staff and a few great writers. Since then, they have poached quality talent from other media outlets, giving The Athletic a competitive edge. The fact that they were ad-free was another bonus. Who wants to sift through annoying ads when you are looking for in-depth news about your favorite teams?
What we wrote then is still true today. The Athletic has distinct advantages, besides VC backing. Though they have expanded into dozens of markets, their target markets are clearly defined; they provide unique, high quality content you cant find anywhere else; and they know who and what they are. They are doing what they do well, and sports fans are responding with their subscription dollars. This company is making smart plays, and we expect them to continue to expand and do well wherever they go.