Spinning The Dead

I am so obsessed with trying to figure out who Deadspin’s new owners are that it led me to some late night spam-blog sleuthing.

By Ernie Smith

Last night, just before I was about to go to bed, I had a sudden thought: There has to be a way to determine who Lineup Publishing is.

The acquirers of Deadspin, the once-beloved-now-beleaguered sports site whose legendary initial run was destroyed the day that the new CEO of the equally beleaguered G/O Media felt the site needed to “stick to sports,” may be the biggest mystery in all of media right now. G/O owner Great Hill Partners gave few details about the acquirer, which bought the brand and the archives, but not the team.

Lineup Media

Very strong “oops, we forgot to build the website” energy.

The domain for this company was purchased a mere five days ago. There are literally no details on this firm other than a very basic WordPress landing page. It was such an unlikely situation, and such an obscure company, that AdWeek initially mistook the purchaser for another company with the same name.

And so, this brain thought I had last night took me to some of the weirdest, spammiest corners of the internet, in a general obsession with the idea that there has to be a way to weed this out. Next thing I knew, it was 3AM and I had written a massive thread on Bluesky breaking down random spam blogs and casino marketers. While I do not have an answer as to who Deadspin’s new owners are, I do have some interesting takeaways from this journey that may lead to the answer.

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Here’s what I found:

The detail I found which could give away the game: The discovery that kind of broke things open for me came down to the domain’s IP. For some reason, the company took the step of locking down the site’s DNS records, but did not put the site behind a security tool like CloudFlare, which would have hidden the site’s IP address. The result was that it was very easy to trace the site’s IP address to the company Cloudways, a Maltese website host that’s owned by DigitalOcean. Cloudways gives each customer its own dedicated IP address, which means that, unlike a smaller WordPress host, Lineup Publishing should be living on a single server, by itself, unless the site owner used a proxy to add a secondary site. And lo and behold, there was one other site on the IP address, and it was … a Finnish casino splog.

Gambling Splog

This extremely spammy website shares an IP address with Lineup Publishing.

Now, nothing against Finnish gamblers, but this is actually a very telling detail. Offshore countries or territories in the Mediterranean, particularly Malta, Cyprus, and Gibraltar, are known as online gambling havens, and the website had numerous references to Maltese-operated online casinos targeting the Finnish market.

And in my efforts to follow the money, I found the eventual SEO payload for this site hiding in an unlinked page buried on the Finnish casino splog’s domain. And that led to …

The unexpected discovery which might explain Google Groups’ closure: Buried in the links on this casino splog, I found a bunch of URL redirects that led to, of all things, a Google Groups post on Usenet. The post featured text in Swedish (not Finnish) that promoted a specific casino affiliate site, which was was also hosted on Cloudways. (By the way, Cloudways, despite Digital Ocean’s ownership, has its main office in Malta.)

Google Groups Spam

The spammy blog above linked to this Usenet post on Google Groups numerous times.

Google Groups recently shut down the ability to post new content, and the fairly recent threads I found hinted at why they did. It appeared to be conversations between bots about online casino sites flooding different unrelated Usenet groups. Essentially, Google Groups may have been suffering the effects of generative AI. Even the avatars were Midjourney specials.

With that in mind, no wonder Google decided to close off new posts. Spammers were apparently turning Google Groups into yet another spamming medium. But that’s an aside, really, in light of the real story …

The speculative thread that makes this interesting: While we won’t know what, exactly, Lineup Publishing has in store for Deadspin now that Jim Spanfeller and Great Hill have agreed to sell it, we do know that this affiliation hiding in its hosting might speak to a broader trend in sports journalism in 2024: The piggybacking of sports brands with online betting.

Sports Illustrated, a similarly gutted media empire, is now associated with a betting platform. Barstool Sports was at one point owned by Penn Gaming in an attempt to build a sports-betting brand, only for Penn to sell it back to Dave Portnoy because Dave Portnoy proved too toxic. Penn upgraded its media partner to, of all companies, ESPN.

Bet365 Lineup Publishing

This is a bit connect-the-dots, but the publishing firm is very close to the island headquarters of a major U.S. sports-betting operation.

And these betting platforms are actually known to be associated with offshore havens. BetMGM, for example, is part-owned by Entain, a sports-betting company based in Gibraltar. And betting platforms with American presences, like Bet365, have offices in Malta. (Bet365’s offices are about 3 kilometers away from Lineup Publishing’s supposed home base, in fact.)

Deadspin did not have this sort of affiliation before its recent sale, but the apparent Maltese ownership would be a great inroad to add such an affiliation. I can’t nail down who would be interested, but the cloak of secrecy its owners have thus far taken raises serious questions for fans of the site, which it should be pointed out, has nearly two decades of archives, including some legendary stories.

Even if there’s a legitimate goal for launching Deadspin as a premium news site, there are still questions to raise. One discovery I made in the midst of all this is that another site with a long digital legacy, Salon, was recently sold to another Maltese company with apparent interests in the online gaming affiliate business—it is currently hiring for an “iGaming account manager,” a fancy way of saying “online casino marketer.” Salon is not going to become a platform for betting, to be clear, and Find.co does appear to be a legitimate business that, to its credit, kept on Salon’s entire team.

But I do think that it offers an interesting window through which to see the Deadspin acquisition—what if Deadspin is there to lend legitimacy to an online betting site or a casino affiliate network? We already have signs that its new owners appear to have a not-so-savory toe dipped into that market. The lack of information creates a vacuum within which we’ll have to see this site.

At a time when not even Deadspin’s own primary vendor, a wire service that is flooding the website with reams of zombie content as we speak, can reach the new owners of this once-famous website, one has to wonder: Was its former owner willing to sell it to anyone?

They may claim they have standards. But what we’ve learned in the last day and a half doesn’t seem to suggest it.

Update: 03/20/2024

It turns out that there is fire associated with that smoke. Fellow freelance journalist Michael Greshko did a little research and uncovered the username that built the site, and it turns out, it is someone closely associated with the casino SEO space.

Feels like Great Hill sold Deadspin to a bunch of casino sploggers!

Update 03/21/2024

Jason at 404 Media ended up tying the threads together (with me chipping in on some of the reporting), and as a result, we now have confirmation: Deadspin was bought by people who have close ties to the Maltese online casino marketing industry, and they aim to tie it to sports betting, as they state on their website.

Turns out, speculative mysteries sometimes lead to things actually being true!

Thread-Tying Links

The first step to solving your cloud-storage problem is admitting you have a problem. The Atlantic’s Charlie Warzel, to his credit, just took that step.

Over the weekend, I watched the famed music documentary Dig! for the first time, and it is as good as everyone says it is, mostly because of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, whose cult hit “Anemone” is above. Dandy Warhols singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor implied in the film that while his band might become more famous in the moment, BJM would be more important over time. I think that’s starting to play out.

Breaking my no-NYT rule because of a very important story that they published about car companies selling owners’ data to insurers. The story, by Kashmir Hill, is good enough to change laws.


Thank you for tolerating my random obsession. Find this one an interesting read? Share it with a pal!

And I promise, I won’t do a follow-up to this unless it turns out that my speculation is 100% correct.


Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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