Japanese telecommunications conglomerate SoftBank, which last year purchased the $70 billion investment firm that manages the largest newspaper chain in the US—GateHouse—may be considering the addition of another large newspaper chain to its portfolio.
Tronc, one of the 10 largest newspaper companies, controls more than 90 newspapers and around 2.5 million in circulation. The company’s recent sale of the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union Tribune to billionaire surgeon Patrick Soon-Shiong and the divestment of its largest shareholder, Michael Ferro, has prompted speculation about its future. Reportedly, several buyers have expressed interest in Tronc, including SoftBank and investment firm Apollo Global Management.
In an earnings call on May 10, Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son was asked by an analyst about the potential Tronc sale and what that may mean for Softbank and its media acquisition strategy. In the call, Son also highlights how little newspapers represent in the company’s vast business portfolio, and its focus on financial performance and shareholder return.
“At SoftBank, we don’t have a direct interest at all, but some of the companies that we acquired, which is Fortress and also investees of Fortress, have interest or have an ownership of local newspaper companies,” Son said, according to a transcript of the call. “This company is trying to enhance their business….so we cannot stop them. And as long as they’re making a good performance, I don’t have any intention to stop them.”
Son said during the call that he doesn’t have direct knowledge on whether Fortress will buy Tronc and that at SoftBank Group, these local media acquisitions are “not something we’re trying to do in new areas or new segments.”
If SoftBank/Fortress were to buy Tronc and merge it with GateHouse, the combined company would control nearly 550 newspapers in the U.S. and around 10 percent of the entire U.S. newspaper circulation. The second largest newspaper owner, Gannett, manages 222 newspapers and controls nearly 4 million in circulation.