Bustle owner Goldberg wins Gawker.com auction with $1.35 million bid

By Jessica DiNapoli (Reuters) - U.S. entrepreneur Bryan Goldberg, the owner of websites Bustle, Elite Daily and The Zoe Report, has prevailed in the bankruptcy auction for Gawker.com with what sources said on Thursday was a $1.35 million bid. The sale to Goldberg marks the end of Gawker's nearly two- year stay in bankruptcy court and came as Univision Communications Inc looks to sell the gossip blog's sister websites such as Jezebel and Deadspin, which it bought for $135 million in 2016. Gawker has been seeking a buyer for months after settling in May with billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel on legal issues that arose during its bankruptcy. Thiel, who funded a privacy lawsuit that drove Gawker into bankruptcy, agreed to drop his bid for the site and abandon legal claims against any eventual buyer. The websites in Goldberg's Bustle Digital Group reach over 80 million women each month, according to his LinkedIn profile. Goldberg previously founded sports media brand Bleacher Report, which Time Warner Inc acquired for $200 million in 2012. Gawker had previously mocked Bustle and Goldberg, in separate blog posts. A 2013 post titled “The Relentless and Well-Deserved Mockery of Bryan Goldberg,” asserted that “Bryan Goldberg is not a smart man.” A 2016 Gawker post accused Bustle of asking its employees questions about their personal lives in a so-called “Bustle Writers: Identity Survey.” A U.S. bankruptcy court judge must still approve Goldberg's bid. Gawker did not immediately return a request for comment. A spokeswoman for Bustle confirmed that a company controlled by Goldberg won the auction, but declined to comment on his plans for Gawker. The sources asked not to be identified ahead of an official announcement. Goldberg beat offers from Long Island marketing firm Didit and a holding company called Online Logo Maker LLC, the people said. Didit had proposed revamping Gawker, known for its salacious stories about celebrity sex and snarky commentary, into "Gawker for Good," publishing only what it considers positive news and channeling ad revenues to charities. Its initial offer for Gawker was $1.13 million. "I congratulate Bustle and Bryan on winning, and look forward to seeing what they do with such an iconic brand," Didit executive chairman Kevin Lee wrote in an email to Reuters. In 2012 Thiel helped fund a lawsuit filed by professional wrestler and actor Hulk Hogan against Gawker after it published a video showing Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, engaged in a sexual encounter. Bollea won a $140 million judgment against Gawker, leading to its bankruptcy. Hogan later settled for $31 million. He is entitled to 45 percent of the proceeds from asset sales, according to court papers. (Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)