May 3, 2016

The Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times announced Tuesday afternoon that it has acquired The Tampa Tribune, ending a 29-year competitive battle in the bay region and creating the fifth-largest Sunday circulation newspaper in the nation.

“The continued competition between the two newspapers was threatening to both,” said Times chairman and CEO Paul Tash. “There are very few cities that are able to sustain more than one daily newspaper, and the Tampa Bay region is not among them.”

Tribune subscribers will begin receiving the Times Wednesday. Deep cuts in duplicated functions including in the Tribune newsroom are expected; shortly after the announcement Tuesday, Tash told the Tampa Bay Times at least 100 layoffs are expected.

There are very few cities where two separately-owned general news titles remain, but there are a couple of two-city metros, such as Minneapolis-St. Paul or Raleigh-Durham.

A possible sale or closure of the Tribune has been rumored for several months, since its owner, Revolution Capital Management of Southern California completed the sale of the Tribune building and surrounding land.

The sales price was not revealed.

Because the Tribune has been privately owned, financial results have not been available. However, while still a part of Media General, the paper was losing more than $1 million a month. When Warren Buffett’s BH Media bought Media General’s papers in 2012, it excluded the Tribune, setting up the later sale to Revolution Capital.

The Times’ acquisition of the Tribune comes amid a larger national consolidation of newspapers, which are grappling with declining print advertising revenue and circulation, even as digital audiences are growing.

The Times opened an expanded Tampa bureau in 1987 and has seen circulation on that side of the bay grow steadily in the years since. A decade ago it launched a free tabloid version, tbt*, aimed in part at Tampa’s younger demographic.

As in most two-paper markets, advertising, over time, flowed to the larger circulation title  — though the Tribune was helped because some media buyers considered the city the heart of the metro.

The acquisition comes after the Times sold its headquarters building in downtown St. Petersburg on April 22 for $19 million. Proceeds from that sale helped to finance the purchase of the Tribune. The Times signed a 15-year lease to remain in that building as a major tenant.

The Times will carry all of the advertising for both newspapers, and it will honor all Tribune subscriptions.

The Tribune name will continue to be used on local news sections published in Hillsborough County on Friday and Sunday. Both websites — and — also will be maintained. As of Tuesday afternoon, and The Tampa Tribune redirected to The Tampa Bay Times’ website.

In February, the Times began printing all editions and weekly sections of the Tribune, its affiliate publications and its commercial printing partners.

In 2012, the St. Petersburg Times changed its name to the Tampa Bay Times to reflect its reach throughout the region. Even before the acquisition, the Times was Florida’s largest newspaper.

It also spent millions on naming rights (since sold) to Tampa’s downtown hockey arena and concert venue, also the site of the 2012 Republican National Convention.

“It’s fair to say we’ve seen this day coming for a very long time,” Tash said. “We are committed to being ‘Florida’s Best Newspaper’ to all of our readers and advertisers.”

Last month, the Times won two Pulitzers Prizes, one for local reporting and the other for investigative reporting. The Times has won three of its Pulitzers for stories that started in Hillsborough County.

The move should be a strong plus for the Times financially — increasing circulation, advertising volume and the rates the company can charge advertisers.  The purchase, Tash commented, “puts the Times on a solid financial footing.”

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Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years. His commentary on…
Rick Edmonds

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