Sports-journalism upstart The Athletic, which has reportedly been considering potential mergers, is raising the cost of an annual subscription, the first time it has sought a price increase of any sort since launching in Chicago in 2016.
Starting Friday, July 16, The Athletic will charge for new and existing subscribers $71.99 per year. Previously, a yearly subscription cost $59.99. Annual subscribers will still pay less than people who pay month by month. The cost of monthly access to the site will remain the same, $7.99.
“We have got 450 reporters, writers, editors, producers on three continents producing as much volume as any national newspaper in the world per week,” Alex Mather, the company’s chief executive and founder, told Variety. “We are still at the same price point” for a subscription when the company had just three employees, he adds.
Executives believe consumers are ready for a revival of live sports, Mather says, as demonstrated by the return of the NCAA Final Four this spring and the looming Tokyo Olympics expected to take place this summer. “We want to continue to build,” he says, and the subscription increase “really just helps that mission.”
Other media companies have sought new premiums for sports content, seeking to leverage interest in the subject to get new revenue from customers and advertisers. Disney’s ESPN announced earlier this week it would raise the monthly and annual fees it charges for ESPN Plus, its subscription-based streaming outlet, in the wake of signing several new rights deals. NBCUniversal, meanwhile, has sought new high prices for a 30-second ad in next year’s Super Bowl: $5.8 million to $6.2 million, according to media buyers.
The Athletic, which has built up a national sports section, as it were, by hiring experienced sports journalists from across the nation, has reportedly considered alliances and mergers with a host of other players. The company was reported to be seeking a tie-up with Axios, and then The New York Times Company.
Mather declined to comment on any potential for a merger or other alliance. “The strategic environment is pretty wild and I’m sure it will continue to be that way,” he says. “We’ve got to forge our own path here.”
The company believes it delivers value for the subscription price, producing coverage of more than 200 clubs and teams around the world, and more than 1,000 new stories and more than 150 podcast episodes each week. Research, says Mather, shows that more than 80% of subscribers use The Athletic to keep up on more than two different sports leagues, with more than 40% of subscribers consuming content on more than four leagues each month. Three-quarters of subscribers look at both national and local stories.
A subscriber “might read about the Cincinnati Reds and a story about the NBA at large,” says Mather. “Supporting that journalism is important.”