October 24, 2023

Breaking: Flying Media Group Acquires Marine Print Titles from Bonnier

Taking a break from finalizing details for the AMO Summit to bring you the very first “scoop” for A Media Operator.

It would seem that Flying Media Group CEO, Craig Fuller, isn’t just interested in flying above the clouds. He now really wants to get out on the water.

Flying Media Group announced today that it has acquired Bonnier’s marine media titles, including Boating, Yachting, Sailing World, Cruising World, SaltWater, Sportsman, Wakeboarding, Sport Fishing, Sport Fishing Television, and the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series.

In an interview with Fuller, he wouldn’t reveal the exact price tag for the portfolio, but did say that the marine portfolio was doing approximately $17 million in revenue and $5 million in EBITDA.

According to a statement about the deal, David Ritchie, CEO of Bonnier LLC, said: “Our mission of fueling the passion of outdoor enthusiasts is playing out well. Bonnier’s revenues have grown by more than 50 percent in the last two years, and I am energized to double down further on offshore fishing, motorsports, and hunting.”

Bonnier now has the cash to reinvest into other areas of the business, namely Marlin (not included in the deal), the tournaments business tied to that brand, and various other outdoors-related brands.

In a presentation given at the FIPP World Media Congress earlier this year, Bonnier Executive Chairman, Jens Mueffelmann shared that from 2020-2022, revenue for Marlin was up 93%. However, where the bulk of that growth came from is not traditional magazine sources. According to the presentation:

  • Media Print: +19%
  • Media Non-Print: +13%
  • Tournaments: +167%
  • Expeditions: +389%

And in that same presentation, Mueffelmann shared that the entire Bonnier portfolio had seen revenue grow 43% from 2020-2022. However, only 2% was from its media assets. 280% came from its non-media assets. Boating and Yachting & Sailing accounted for 15% and 23% of Bonnier’s revenue in that period of time.

Suffice it to say, there is a lot of opportunity for Bonnier to continue investing in these tournaments and expeditions, unlocking continued growth there.

But what comes next for Flying Media Group?

There’s no denying that the team has been busy acquiring brands left and right. Fuller first bought Flying back in July 2021. And since then, he’s acquired 25 other brands all related to aviation. The most recent was on October 3rd when it was announced that they had acquired AvBuyer, a business aircraft marketplace and intelligence provider.

But this is the first expansion into something that’s not aviation-related. However, if you look at the audiences, there is plenty of synergy. Fuller said in an interview:

We have this massive audience. We’re now the largest marine publisher. There is significant overlap [between Flying and Marine]. An audience that has an airplane also has a boat or a yacht. There is enormous wealth in these communities. It gives you price elasticity. And these can be very tightly controlled niches, but still be incredibly valuable.

And that’s really the entire strategy that Fuller has been working toward since buying Flying Magazine. While the entire portfolio of brands makes money from subscriptions and ads like any other magazine publisher, the real opportunity lies in other down funnel offerings.

For example, in August, Flying Media Group announced that it had acquired Sky Allies Capital—rebranded as Flying Financial Group. According to the announcement:

Currently, Sky Allies Capital offers loans for new and used aircraft, avionics upgrades, engine overhauls, fleet equipment, flight simulators, and more. Sky Allies has a network of more than 100 financial institutions, offering financing solutions for nearly every type of aircraft or equipment in the market. FLYING Financial will continue current Sky Allies Capital programs, as well as create a portfolio of loan and payment solutions built for aircraft owners, pilots, OEMs, dealers, and flight schools.

Financing an airplane is a serious pain point for buyers because banks typically won’t give you the money the way they might for a car. And so, what Flying Media Group does is connect buyers with aircraft-friendly lenders.

And there’s serious money in this line of business. According to Fuller, the typical brokerage fee is anywhere from 1-3% depending on the airplane size. For example, a used, single engine aircraft might cost $400k. And so, Flying could generate a commission of anywhere from $8-12k. In the jet market, planes might go for anywhere from $1-12m. A 1% commission on a $12 million plane is $120,000.

“We bought this four months ago,” Fuller said, “and it is going gangbusters. We’ve already paid for the entire acquisition.”

A big driver of leads to the finance business are aircraft dealers themselves. Flying incentivizes these dealers to drive leads to the financing product in exchange for ad credits. Every time a lead becomes a deal, the aircraft dealer gets free advertising across the Flying Media Group ecosystem.

And this is why Fuller and team have been buying up these flying and now marine-related assets as quickly as they can. Because of how great and passionate these audiences are, the company can significantly increase the monetization potential. With a standard magazine, the ARPU might be the annual subscription plus a tiny sliver of the ad dollars. But with this, one reader could turn into a $15,000 check for the company. That changes the math considerably.

What comes next is the standard operating procedures for this sort of a deal. Fuller explained that the transition will take 60-90 days. The team of 60-70 is coming over in the deal. “You’re responsible for them,” Fuller said, “but they are not technically on your payroll. We’ll figure out operational issues after the fact. I can get the employees that are part of the brands to be active in that practice to determine how the organization is going to come over.”

What happens to the print products next? The agencies that have typically sold the magazines in the past—Amazon Magazines, Magazines.com, etc.—are all going to be fired immediately. And Fuller explained that they are going to evaluate whether they keep the magazines on newsstands. As he said, “I don’t love newsstands. The issue with the newsstand is you don’t know the audience at all.”

Fuller said that the business is expected to do $38 million in revenue this year with the Marine acquisition. And it’ll generate anywhere from $7-8m in EBITDA. According to Fuller, the revenue breakdown is:

  • Print ads: 50%+
  • Subs: 10-15%
  • Digital: 30%
  • Finance and other parts are still small, but rapidly growing

In June, I wrote about why I thought magazines could be the winner in the next era of media. And in that piece, I said:

To some, there’s doom and gloom in media. It’s hard to be a magazine operator in 2023. But I think if operators really understand who their audience is and build products for them, cut out all the middlemen and sell directly to the consumer, and then go down funnel with more engaging monetization, many of these niche magazines can find a place. It might not be massive, but it can be sustainable. 

Craig Fuller and team are taking that model and perfecting it. I’ll be curious to see what marine brands he decides to buy next and, even more, if he continues to move into other fuel-related properties. As CEO of FreightWaves (trucks), Flying Media Group (aircrafts), and now these marine assets (boats), there’s a lot of fuel to go around.

EDIT: After publication, some of the numbers were changed to represent that the business was expected to do approximately $30 million in revenue after the deal and that the medi assets generated about $17 million in revenue.

Thanks for reading this special edition of A Media Operator. I hope you found it valuable. Please hit reply if you have thoughts and become an AMO Pro member to never miss another update. Have a great week!