Minute Media recently made its fourth acquisition in 18 months after bringing Meredith-owned FanSided into its stable of titles.
The acquisition is the latest play from the publisher, with founder and chief executive Asaf Peled telling The Drum that the hunt for "topnotch content" titles comes as it looked to capitalize on the advertising opportunity presented by the increasing number of US states have legalised gambling.
With venture capital investment, the obscure Israeli tech firm has cherry-picked titles from legacy media owners to power its foothold in the US sports scene; first Dennis’ brain-teasing title Mental Floss in 2018 and Gannet’s sports blog The Big Lead in May 2019. Then in a surprising move last November, it secured candid athlete story platform The Player’s Tribune for an undisclosed sum, signaling a premium content push. These titles, FanSided included, now join Minute Media's original stable of fan-contributed sports blogs which include 90min (football), 12up (American sports) and DBLTAP (esports).
It now claims to attract "one of" the nation's largest sports audiences. Peled said: "Specifically with FanSided, we are excited about the prospect of joining our forces, in partnership with The Players’ Tribune, to really dominate the US sports media landscape in terms of size, content offerings and reach. As with all our brands, we will use our technology platform to support growth to scale and become more global. We are also excited about the opportunity in the US betting space, using FanSided’s local presence in key states combined with our content."
From its Tel Aviv HQ, the acquisitions are now being plugged into the Minute Media publishing platform which it says reaches an estimated 140 million monthly readers across 14 languages.
Part of its business plan sees this platform also leased out to other media brands in need of expertise and tech to optimise SEO, social, advertising, and distribution on their own and third-party platforms like Flipboard and Apple News. Around 50% of its revenue now comes from clients, which include ProSieben, USA today, and FanDuel, using this service.
The group is also offering access to its growing direct sales team as its proposition scales. "From an advertising perspective, we have been working to grow direct sales function to brands and take direct advertising, not just programmatic, to the next level." This is the very same team that is primed to pursue a growing betting adspend in the US worth a reported $7bn a year, according to one study.
Peled said: "Our recent acquisitions have led to increased interest in incoming deal flow. But it is also important that we take the time to digest and make sure that we are not moving too fast, and allow adequate time for the new brands to integrate properly."
So far, Minute Media's most exciting acquisition remains The Players' Tribune. Founded in 2014 by Derek Jeter, a retired Major League Baseball All-Star and former New York Yankees captain as the place for athletes to tell their own stories, its videos or bylined articles often set rival sports newsdesks alight. Despite big-name athletes regularly detailing their origins, challenges and beliefs, it struggled to scale the business. Football will be its international route to growth, after the buzz around pieces from Romelu Lukaku, and then later Raheem Sterling. In an era when athletes bypass the media to tell their stories on social media, The Players' Tribune offered an alternative - it denies that it exists to "polish" the reputation of athletes.
Peled admitted that The Players' Tribune opens up access to the world's top athletes that can aid other titles like FanSided. He said: "We want to be the leading tech-driven sports publisher gaining that unique access is important."
There are further acquisitions to come in 2020. Peled has an eye for quality brands that his tech can power up. The ambition is to expand in sports, or where it touches culture and lifestyle.
"We are going after topnotch content brands and teams that we would take years to build in-house. We are acquiring great companies that do not have the tech or the large scale audience building function that we have."
Peled plans to cross-pollinate audiences and content across the network. "We do everything with a tech-first approach, so we are able to scale quickly and build infrastructure that works for today’s digital publishers, as well as being able to adapt to changing technologies."
Andres Cardenas, head of global football at Minute Media, hinted at the interesting synergy between fan-driven sites like 90min, 12up, FanSided and the athlete platform to create a unique crossover between fans and athletes. We are in a unique position to close the gap between athletes and fans. It is a powerful movement we don't believe has ever been done before and attractive to advertisers and fans and athletes."
The challenge now will be in creating additional value from sports blogs that were cast aside by legacy publishers. Will the tech and monetisation platform deliver something that is greater than the sum of all its parts?
With fantasy football firms DraftKings and Fan Duel already affording a significant lift to NFL revenues, it is clear to see how betting clients will be the next sports media landgrab.