It wasn't that they didn't need to get paid well by the Athletic while they had severances, it was that the Athletic paid them just as well, swimming in VC money while not making a profit. Now they have to actually generate revenue for their new owner.
In theory the site is also under less pressure to attract stand-alone subscribers (like, they would probably lose me if they cut their baseball or college football or hockey coverage too much more, but since it's also part of my NY Times sub probably not).
The soccer domination has been very noticeable. I only follow an MLS team in my Athletic feed but I still see dozens of other stories, much more than any other sport.