Play Sports Network (PSN), the parent company of Global Cycling Network (GCN) and a handful of other cycling media verticals, is being spit-shined and placed on the showroom floor as PSN owner Warner Bros. Discovery seeks a suitable buyer.
In the running are at least two well-known entities in the cycling world, according to sources with knowledge of the company’s plans who requested anonymity as they are not authorized to speak on the subject.
One option is Outside Interactive Inc., a conglomeration of outdoor media titles and mapping apps that hoovered up cycling titles like Peloton, CyclingTips, Pinkbike, and VeloNews before shutting down or rebranding all but Pinkbike. The Outside portfolio also contains Outside Watch, which began life as the Resort Sports Network and is a mix of original content and live coverage of events like Ironman 70.3.
A second interested party is apparently Play Sports’ founder, Simon Wear, who sold the company to Discovery in 2021. Wear remained on the board of Play Sports but left his day-to-day role in early 2023. Neither Wear nor Outside Interactive CEO Robin Thurston responded to Escape Collective‘s request for comment.
After buying an initial stake in Play Sports in 2017, and then becoming the majority holder in 2019, Discovery purchased the remainder of Play Sports Network in 2021, in doing so valuing the company at roughly £70 million.
A press release issued at the time of the 2019 acquisition made the goal clear: to “combine Play Sports Group’s market-leading cycling content and community with Discovery’s live sports rights to create the #1 cycling media ecosystem in the world.”
Discovery began to merge the GCN brand with its existing Eurosport television properties, and what was once primarily a YouTube channel quickly morphed into a streaming television product. While GCN remains hugely successful on YouTube, the GCN+ app has become ubiquitous amongst cycling fans as their primary method of watching live professional cycling.
In February of 2022, Discovery also picked up the rights to the 2023-2030 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup series, which have been combined with Eurosport’s extensive portfolio of road events, including the Tour de France, in major markets like the UK. Around the same time, Discovery shut down the Eurosport player and phased out that method of streaming live sports.
Cycling coverage had already been moved over to GCN+ from Eurosport, and these events continued to be distributed under the GCN+ banner, which has strong recognition with enthusiasts. However, the television rights for all these live events are owned by parent company Discovery, which merged with Warner Bros. in April 2022. (In 2019, Discovery also led a $50 million investment round into Flo Sports, which owns the North American broadcast rights to a number of races.)
Around the same time, Play Sports kicked off a significant original-content creation campaign, releasing numerous documentaries on the GCN+ platform as it sought to build out an app that provided both live sports and more evergreen cycling content.
The GCN+ road racing coverage utilizes many familiar faces from the company’s YouTube channel, including former professional racer Dan Lloyd, and combines them with Eurosport host talent like Orla Chennaoui, analysts like Robbie McEwen and Adam Blythe, and commentators including Rob Hatch. It’s a winning combination, providing what is broadly considered the most comprehensive and intelligent racing coverage on English-language television.
The company was loss-making through its latest public report, for the year ending December 2021, and Escape Collective understands that remains the case. Play Sports’ after-tax loss amounted to £10,022,044 in 2021, up from £6,344,153 in 2020, largely the result of development and other costs associated with the GCN+ app. The app was also largely responsible for a roughly £7 million increase in revenue the same year, to £17.2 million total.
The full scope and timeline of the sale remain unclear at this time, and the details could have a sizable impact on the way cycling fans consume live race coverage. The Play Sports properties available for acquisition may be only the YouTube and web divisions, including the newly launched GCN website. The TV rights currently owned by Discovery may or may not be included in any potential sale of Play Sports Network, and would likely be retained by Discovery, possibly to be found on Discovery’s own streaming platform, Discovery+.
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