Gawker hires bank, makes 'contingency' plans after Hogan lawsuit

(Reuters) - Gawker Media, the New York-based owner of online news and gossip website, is exploring a sale following a court ruling that it pay $140 million to wrestler Hulk Hogan over the publication of a sex tape, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The company has fielded interest from a few parties but the sales process is in the early stages, one of the sources said, asking not to be named because the matter is confidential. It may also explore a potential restructuring, the source added. The New York Post first reported the sale effort.

Gawker has hired investment bank Houlihan Lokey Inc HLI.N to advise it, the company said in a statement on Thursday.

Billionaire PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook, is helping Hulk Hogan bankroll a lawsuit against Gawker Media, he told the New York Times in an article published on Thursday.

“We’ve had bankers engaged for quite some time given the need for contingency planning around Facebook board member Peter Thiel’s revenge campaign — that’s how the Columbus Nova investment was arranged,” Gawker said.

Investment company Columbus Nova Technology Partners took a minority stake in Gawker Media earlier this year.

Gawker also confirmed it had hired Houlihan Lokey media banker Mark Patricof and said “that seems to have stirred up some excitement, when the fact is that nothing is new.”

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Gawker, founded by Nick Denton, owns popular blogs such as the tech-focused Gizmodo, Jezebel, which covers women’s rights, and Kotaku, a video game blog. Denton owns the majority of the company.

A six-person jury in March awarded $60 million to Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, for emotional distress and $55 million for economic damages. The jury then slapped another $25 million in punitive damages on the company and Denton.

Hogan sued the website for posting a video clip in 2012 featuring him having sex with the wife of his then-best friend, radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge.

Hogan testified that he did not know their consensual tryst was being recorded when it occurred nearly a decade ago.