The Ringer, the sports-and-culture media company founded by Bill Simmons, is reportedly in talks about a sale to the audio company Spotify — a deal that could be a financial windfall for the site’s founders and help Spotify gain a foothold in sports media. But employees at the Ringer are raising alarms about what it means for their jobs.
“The Ringer’s staff is made up of far more than podcasters: writers, editors, illustrators, fact checkers, copy editors, social media editors, and video and audio producers," the Ringer union said in a statement released Tuesday by the Writers Guild of America, East, which represents the Ringer employees. "It’s our hope that any future sale both recognizes the importance of that staff and honors the existing progress we’ve made at the bargaining table since our union was recognized in August.”
Talks between the companies are still in the early stages, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the sale. According to a person familiar with the situation there, Ringer employees are worried about the jobs of non-podcasters in a deal with Spotify, which does not produce or distribute any written content. The union asked management to address the Journal story but has gotten no response. “Ringer management has not addressed these high-profile reports about the company with its employees,” the union said in its statement. Simmons did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Ringer’s staff announced its intention to organize in August, and the union was quickly recognized by management. The most recent bargaining session was last week. Most of the 62-person bargaining unit does not have equity in the company, the person familiar with the situation said.
The Ringer was founded by Simmons, the former ESPN columnist and for many years that company’s most high-profile writer. At ESPN, Simmons founded Grantland, the prestige-journalism website that hired big-name writers and specialized in magazine-style feature writing, analytics-driven sports coverage and pop-culture criticism. Simmons and ESPN parted ways in 2015; Grantland was shuttered soon after.
Simmons launched the Ringer the next year, with financial backing from HBO. It was similar to Grantland but expanded to include a sprawling and successful podcast network, with offerings such as Simmons’s eponymous podcast, as well as shows covering the NBA, NFL, the media and pop culture. Last year, the Ringer signed popular commentator Ryen Russillo to an exclusive podcasting deal.
Spotify, which is headquartered in Sweden, is best known as a subscription music-streaming service. But last year, the company acquired podcast publisher Gimlet for a reported $230 million, signaling the company’s intention to produce original content.