Waiting Game

Bustle Chief Bryan Goldberg Buys Gawker.Com, But Won’t Relaunch It—Yet

Online media mogul Bryan Goldberg—founder of Bustle, Elite Daily and Bleacher Report—bought Gawker.com for around $1.5 million. Hulk Hogan will net nearly half of the proceeds.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Online media mogul Bryan Goldberg—the founder of Bustle.com, Elite Daily and Bleacher Report, among other web sites—is the new owner of Nick Denton’s moribund Gawker.com, including a 200,000-story archive and associated domain names.

In a 45-minute private auction held Thursday at the offices of white-shoe law firm Ropes and Gray LLC, Goldberg won Gawker against two other bidders—marketing executive Kevin Lee and an unidentified media company—by agreeing to pay something under $2 million, according to an informed source.

CNN reported that Goldberg’s winning bid was around $1.5 million.

“Gawker died in 2016 and the last person on the planet to resurrect it is Bryan Goldberg,” former Gawker editor John Cook told The Daily Beast. “It’s dead. It’s gone. Whatever he’s going to do with it is going to have nothing to do with the actual site. It’s a shame that he’s going to be parading around the corpse.”

Cook dismissed Goldberg’s web sites—one of which, the sports-minded Bleacher Report, was sold six years ago for $200 million to Time Warner’s Turner Media—as “light aggregation designed to create a friendly environment for advertisers. It’s shiny happy content”; in other words, the polar opposite of Gawker’s mean and bitchy editorial sensibility under Denton.

However, Lee—whose stalking horse bid of $1.1 million set the minimum sales price for the auction and entitles him to a $100,000 breakup fee plus his legal costs—applauded Goldberg’s purchase.

“Bustle is in a great position to launch this thing within a few days after acquisition,” Lee told The Daily Beast, noting that Goldberg recently raised $12 million from investors for his company. “They’ve got the tech, they’ve got the resources, and they’ve got the sales.”

Journalist Ryan Holiday, who has chronicled Gawker’s rise and fall, agreed that Goldberg potentially could remake Gawker into a profitable business venture.

“He’s sitting pretty,” Holiday said. “It could make sense for him to own Gawker. They would have the sales staff and the advertising acumen to be able to effectively monetize the back catalogue in a way that an upstart wouldn’t potentially be able to. They could immediately monetize it by driving traffic to those archives by linking to them again and leveraging the domain name. It’s a viable business decision.”

Yet the 35-year-old Goldberg—who didn’t respond to an email seeking comment—said in a memo to his staff obtained by CNN that he has no immediate plans to re-launch Denton’s controversial news and gossip site.

"You are probably wondering what happens next," Goldberg wrote. “The short is this—not much. We have no immediate plans to re-launch Gawker. For now, things will stay as they are. I'm very excited about the possibilities for the future of Gawker. I will share more in the months ahead."

Under the terms of the 2016 bankruptcy proceedings and the $31 million settlement with Terry Bollea, better known as pro-wrestling celebrity Hulk Hogan—whose successful 2012 lawsuit against Gawker and Denton was bankrolled by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel—Bollea will receive 45 percent of the proceeds of Thursday’s sale and Denton and his other investors in Gawker Media LLC and Gawker Hungary will receive the remainder.

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In a two-week jury trial in St. Petersburg, Florida, Bollea sued Gawker, Denton and  then-Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio after the latter posted a brief excerpt of a half-hour sex tape in which Bollea was enjoying a bedroom romp with a close friend’s wife. The jury—in a shocking verdict—awarded the wrestler $140.1 million in damages.

Bankruptcy and corporate turnaround specialist Will Holden—who was hired by Gawker two years ago to oversee the company’s liquidation—declined to comment on Thursday’s auction result, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Univision, which purchased six of Gawker Media’s non-gossip sites for $135 million, is reportedly trying to sell them now.

Donald Trump donor Thiel—who (according to Holiday’s 2018 book Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue) secretly funded Hogan’s lawsuit to drive Gawker out of business and personally punish Denton for a 2007 story revealing that he’s gay—initially announced that he planned to bid on Gawker but dropped out in April out of concern for the legal risks such a bid could expose him to.

Cook, meanwhile, argued that whatever form Goldberg’s Gawker takes, it will bear little resemblance to the original enterprise that Denton launched in 2004 as an independent, privately-held media company that was once valued at as much as $300 million.

“The days of a place like Gawker being able to survive and succeed are over,” Cook said. “The liability risks are much steeper than they were…The thing that made Gawker Gawker was a willingness to indulge reckless writers in their desire to say what they want without regard to whether it hurts anybody’s feelings. You can’t do that anymore.”