Sports Illustrated publisher Maven is making 2021 the year it gets a lot bigger.
In tandem with an announcement on Monday that the company has secured $20 million in equity financing commitments from new and existing institutional investors, Maven simultaneously announced that it’s reached a deal to buy New Jersey-based sports news website The Spun. Maven and Sports Illustrated CEO Ross Levinsohn said in a phone interview with Forbes that the plan is for this fast-growing digital property, which reaches almost 15 million readers per month, to continue operating largely as it does now while being positioned into the Maven ecosystem by integrating it into the Sports Illustrated website. “They’re a really dynamic, independent sports company, and they’ve grown mightily over the last 7 years or so,” Levinsohn told Forbes. “A really smart, young, aggressive team, with really terrific leadership, and we couldn’t be more excited. Their numbers are terrific, and it’s a great complement to Sports Illustrated for us.”
The Spun has a team of 11 employees, and terms of the acquisition weren’t publicly disclosed. As far as the Maven capital raise, that funding is partly meant to fund more of this same kind of thing. In addition to restructuring debt, Maven has raised more than $40 million in new capital since Levinsohn took on CEO duties back in the fall, and now the company is ready to start spending — on everything from marketing to acquisitions of properties like The Spun and others coming soon.
“We have some pretty big ambitions,” Levinsohn said. “And this is sort of our first at-bat at growth since I took over the company about nine months ago.”
The Spun co-founder Matt Lombardi has been appointed as Vice President/General Manager of Growth for Sports at Maven, and he’ll report to Maven’s President of Media, Rob Barrett. Meantime, all 11 employees of The Spun are being retained.
This deal comes on the heels of Sports Illustrated, according to Maven, drawing more than 38 million online readers in January — a best-ever monthly record for the site. Also, this acquisition comes only a little more than a month after Maven launched a cryptocurrency-focused media brand called Crypto Investor, which includes a subscription-based weekly newsletter product and amounted to an expansion of Maven-owned TheStreet.
That newsletter, developed in concert with BTC Inc. — the publisher and venture group behind Bitcoin Magazine — is complemented by a new dedicated channel on TheStreet’s current site that focuses on a regular stream of daily cryptocurrency news coverage, freely accessible to readers at TheStreet. And it’s a perfect example of the kind of product that Levinsohn said Maven is eager to launch and acquire more of — brands that serve loyal, engaged, and specific audiences.
“We really look for assets that can fit into and expand an existing vertical for us, or start a new one,” Levinsohn said. “In The Spun, we saw something that would be additive and incremental to our sports vertical, which is anchored by the halo brand of Sports Illustrated. It’s the most trusted brand name in sports, it’s revered, it’s got an incredible history, and its audience is amazingly loyal — with still north of 1.7 million paying print subscribers today.
“We’re not going to change The Spun. They’re doing just fine on their own, and I think we can give them a little extra rocket boost inside what we’re doing here. We’re going to integrate them into our company, but we’re not going to do anything to change what they’re doing well.”
The current plan is to integrate The Spun into the Sports Illustrated website this year, but not immediately. All of The Spun’s content will still be accessible at thespun.com in the near term.
Speaking of change, it’s something of an understatement to note the degree to which that’s been a constant for some months now at Maven, where Levinsohn has been CEO since the fall and Barrett came aboard as president of media in February. Levinsohn characterized 2020 as a tough year for the business overall — attributable to the coronavirus pandemic that battered so many industries, including media brands — but stressed that the company is now chomping at the bit to grow. According to Maven, for example, the company has in addition to restructuring more than 200 content partnerships also “solidified and expanded” its relationship with Authentic Brands Group, which owns the Sports Illustrated brand. Maven says it’s also grown its digital subscribers by 30% over the last 12 months, and advertising revenue has likewise ticked upward in recent quarters.
A robust digital-first focus pervades the operation, as The Spun deal exemplifies. Same with the hire of executives like Barrett, who joined Maven from Hearst Newspapers where he was president of digital and who also previously oversaw Yahoo’s news and finance group.
“Invenire has great confidence in Maven and its strategic trajectory,” said Invenire Capital managing partner Chad Nelson, whose firm was among the investors in Maven’s funding round. “We are pleased with the progress made with Ross Levinsohn at the helm, and our increased investment reflects the potential of the powerful media company and its long-term growth.”