Subscribe to the Front Office Sports Newsletter here.
Bill Simmons wants roughly $200 million from Spotify Technology or other bidders looking to purchase The Ringer, sources told Front Office Sports.
However, given the current media environment, sources said a more accurate valuation for the sport and pop culture website and podcast network is more like $90 million to $100 million. The gap between Simmons’ desired price and the true market value for The Ringer could make any deal problematic, said sources.
Simmons discussed a sale with AT&T WarnerMedia in 2019, according to Peter Kafka of Vox Media, at a purchase price of $100 million. Spotify’s desire to acquire The Ringer stems mostly from its network of 30-plus podcasts generating 100 million downloads a month, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the talks on January 17.
While The Ringer’s traffic pales in comparison to competitor sites such as Bleacher Report, it makes more than $15 million a year in podcast ad sales, according to a WSJ story in 2019.
Spotify has been on a run of recent acquisitions in the podcast space. In February 2019, Spotify paid more than $200 million for Gimlet Media, a production house with podcast revenue comparable to The Ringer. The company also bought podcast distribution tool Anchor for around $140 million. Even if The Ringer doubled its podcast ad revenue in 2019, $200 million would be a significant premium for a startup site that doesn’t break news or draw much traffic outside of podcasts, said Eric Jackson, the founder, and president of media and tech investment firm EMJ Capital.
“$200 million would be a whopping multiple for a media company at this time,” said Jackson. “If they offered that to him, if I were him, I would take it in a heartbeat.”
Simmons, the former ESPN columnist, founded the Los Angeles-based Ringer in 2015 after former ESPN president John Skipper declined to pick up his contract.
The Ringer hasn’t revealed much about its ownership. HBO has an estimated 20% stake, said sources. But there has been speculation about how long HBO wants to continue holding that investment after canceling Simmons’ failed TV talk show, “Any Given Wednesday,” after just 17 episodes in 2016.
If the 50-year old Simmons does sell out, Jackson expects he would stay on with the Ringer staff he personally recruited in Los Angeles. But Jackson also doesn’t rule out the possibility of Simmons trying to link up with his old colleagues at ESPN.
During his time at The Ringer, Simmons has voiced his resentment at not being given more credit for co-creating ESPN franchises like the “30 for 30” documentary series, which garnered the Worldwide Leader in Sports its first Oscar with “O.J.: Made in America” in 2017, as well as helping to grow ESPN’s podcast business. Skipper left ESPN in December 2017 and now serves as executive chairman of DAZN.
“I could see him doing more and more crossover stuff with ESPN. It seems there’s been a de-frosting of the relationship there over the last few years. I think he could do other stuff beyond just continuing with The Ringer/Spotify if he did go on that path,” Jackson said.