Terms of the deal — which had been rumored for weeks — were not announced, though Recode’s Peter Kafka reported that Spotify intends to hire The Ringer’s 90 employees and keep its website up and running. But the audio company’s main desire was to acquire The Ringer’s successful podcast network, which includes offerings such as Simmons’s eponymous podcast and shows covering the NBA, NFL, the media and pop culture.
That, in turn, has had The Ringer’s non-podcasters on edge.
“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 Jan. 21 after news of Spotify’s intentions were reported by the Wall Street Journal. “It’s our hope that any future sale both recognizes the importance of that staff and honors the existing process we’ve made at the bargaining table since our union was recognized in August.”
On Wednesday, Simmons tweeted that The Ringer will remain The Ringer “in every respect.”
The Ringer and its 90 employees unionized in August, and the union was recognized by management. The two sides have been in talks about a contract. On Jan. 31, the union tweeted that Ringer management had not addressed the potential Spotify acquisition with employees in the two weeks since news of the sale was reported.
In a statement on Wednesday, WGA East, which represents the Ringer union, said representatives are “already in good faith negotiations at Gimlet, another Spotify owned entity and look forward to continuing good faith negotiations at The Ringer.”
The Ringer union also released a statement saying “we anticipate a productive relationship with new management for all Ringer staff members: podcasters, writers, editors, illustrators, fact checkers, copy editors, social media editors, and video and audio producers” and that “we look forward to hearing from [senior managers] about how this transaction will affect our day-to-day work.”
Backed with funding from HBO, Simmons started The Ringer in 2016 after he parted ways with ESPN one year earlier. The site’s editorial content reflected what Simmons had done at ESPN with Grantland, the sports and pop culture sub-site that focused more on long-form journalism. But The Ringer also featured a number of podcasts that soon became the site’s main draw — they reportedly drew 28 million monthly downloads as of January 2019, with ad sales reportedly exceeding $15 million in 2018 — as online audio has surged in popularity.
Ek said he hopes Simmons stays put.
“I wouldn’t have done the deal if I didn’t feel that Bill was in it for the right reasons, and didn’t want to build something much bigger,” he told Recode.
Last year, Spotify acquired podcast publisher Gimlet for a reported $230 million, signaling the company’s intention to produce original content, one of three podcast company acquisitions the audio company had made in the past year along with Anchor FM and Parcast. But The Ringer will be Spotify’s first purchase that also includes written content.
“We look forward to putting the full power of Spotify behind The Ringer as they drive our global sports strategy,” Dawn Ostroff, Spotify’s chief content officer, said in a statement announcing the deal. “As we set out to expand our sports and entertainment offerings, we wanted a best-in-class editorial team. Bill Simmons is one of the brightest minds in the game and he has successfully innovated as a writer and content creator across mediums and platforms. The Ringer’s proven track record of creating distinctive cultural content as well as discovering and developing top tier talent will make them a formidable asset for Spotify.”