If the podcast team at The Athletic wants to create a new show, they’re unlikely to be told there’s no money to do it. That’s because the sports brand has just raised $50 million in new capital, according to Axios, which says it valued the company at $500 million. It is the seventh time The Athletic has raised cash, bringing its total fundraising effort to $139.5 million.
The new funding comes from Bedrock Capital, which previously invested in The Athletic in 2018, as well as Plus Capital, a venture fund that says it invests money for “elite artists and athletes.” Founders Fund, Evolution Media and Y Combinator also reportedly participated in the latest round. Executives told Axios the funding will be used to grow The Athletic’s editorial operations outside the U.S.
Thanks to subscription fees, The Athletic expects to turn profitable in 2020. But it has also poked holes in the paywall for podcast listeners. Last August The Athletic began putting some of its podcasts in front of its paywall in order to entice listeners to convert to paid users. That’s meant it will offer one episode a week to non-subscribers with a second “bonus” episode available only to subscribers. Several of the free podcast also began including advertising. The move was designed to get listeners to sample some of the podcasts in its portfolio and then covert them into paid users. A subscription to The Athletic starts at $5 per month.
"The success of The Athletic has so far played a very strong role in bending the narrative of ad-supported media business models to subscription-based models, which are much more aligned with what benefits the end customer,” Bedrock founder Eric Stromberg told Axios.
The Athletic currently has about a dozen employees on a dedicated podcast team, according to reports, with roughly 85 people working at its San Francisco headquarters. In September it announced it would partner with Wondery to produce the daily sports podcast called The Lead. Hosted by Kavitha Davidson and Anders Kelto, the show runs through the box scores and some of the biggest sports news of the morning, targeting commuters.