Maven, which oversees publications like Sports Illustrated and TheStreet, has rebranded to The Arena Group. Coinciding with the name change, the media company is refocusing its business around those flagship sites and their sports and finance categories.
The Arena Group’s move is the latest change in a series of updates after execs added sites in those verticals to its proprietary publishing and tech platform.
“Our old focus was on broad, longtail publishers on a variety of topics. That was not a successful business model for a company like ours,” said The Arena Group COO Andrew Kraft. Rather than hosting sites that publish content on niche topics such as lifestyle blog Cupcakes and Cashmere and health resource site Cancer Connect, the focus now is on category-specific content and hosting and acquiring sites that fit into the sports and finance verticals, or “arenas,” as the company calls them. This shift began when Sports Illustrated CEO Ross Levinsohn became the top executive of the then-Maven in August 2020.
Bolstered by Sports Illustrated — which The Arena Group has licensed from Authentic Brands Group since January 2020 — the media company claimed, citing Comscore data, that the number of unique visitors to its sports sites has grown by more than 300% year over year to total 50 million unique visitors in August 2021. According to data from Comscore, Sports Illustrated attracted 25.6 million unique visitors in August 2021, a 39% increase year over year. The company’s sports vertical also includes The Spun (which the company acquired in June), and 100 other sports publications that were added to the company’s platform since the beginning of last year, including FanNation’s local team sites hosted on the SI.com domain, The Hockey News, Fadeaway World and Morning Read, among others.
The Arena Group’s finance vertical, anchored by TheStreet, has 17 sites. TheStreet had 5 million unique visitors in August 2021, a 42% decline year over year, according to Comscore data.
The Arena Group generated $143 million in revenue from June 30, 2020 to June 30, 2021, a 54% increase year over year, according to the company.
The company’s digital revenue grew by 90% year over year, with most of that growth coming from subscriptions. Kraft declined to break out digital’s share of overall revenue.
The Arena Group’s revenue is roughly split between subscriptions (print and digital) and ad revenue.
Digital ad revenue grew by 26% year over year in the second quarter, the company said. The Arena Group has not reported its third quarter earnings.
The sports vertical reaches a younger and more diverse audience compared to last year, including 15% more millennial-aged visitors and 42% more women. Women now represent a quarter of the sports vertical’s audience, according to the company.
The Arena Group owns and hosts the domains of over 200 sites.
Over the past year, the company has raised more than $40 million.
The Arena Group has 300 employees and is a fully virtual organization.
Investing in subscriptions In the past year, The Arena Group has hired eight people to the consumer marketing side of the company. The company’s CMO Jill Marchisotto oversees the company’s subscription business and plans to add more employees to the team.
Digital subscription revenue has grown by 18% year-over-year, mostly thanks to TheStreet’s subscription business, which grew 36%. Sports Illustrated and TheStreet have a combined subscriber base of 89,000 subscribers. Sports Illustrated’s digital subscription launched in March, while TheStreet has been selling digital subscriptions since 1997.
Access to FanNation’s sites are part of the Sports Illustrated digital subscription package. Marchisotto said a model like this could be applied to future publisher categories at the company.
What does the refocus mean for the other sites? Roughly 50 sites are not part of The Arena Group’s sports and finance verticals, and include health, history and food sites, among others. The Arena Group will continue to host them.
“The most important thing about this refocus is not just deciding what we are going to do, but what we aren’t going to do,” Kraft said. “We aren’t going out signing publishers onto our platform willy nilly outside of our verticals.”
The Arena Group provides publishing and monetization tools that publishers, such as FanNation’s independently owned local team sites, are able to use. FanNation’s sites, for example, live on Sports Illustrated’s domain, make money via The Arena’s Group’s monetization stack and get to keep 50-70% of their revenue. The Arena Group takes the rest, and benefits from the traffic and ad revenue those sites drive.
What categories are next? Despite The Arena Group refocusing on sports and finance, the company does not plan to retain that strict focus for long and will eventually look to the lifestyle category. “We wouldn’t put this group together if we were satisfied with two verticals,” Kraft said.
This article has been updated to reflect that TheStreet has been selling digital subscriptions since 1997. A previous version incorrectly stated that TheStreet’s digital subscriptions launched two years ago, which was when Maven acquired the publication.