By Liana B. Baker and Anya George Tharakan
(Reuters) - Gawker Media, the New York-based owner of online news and gossip website Gawker.com, 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 people said, asking not to be named because the matter is confidential. The New York Post first reported the sale effort.
Gawker has hired investment bank Houlihan Lokey Inc <HLI.N> to explore strategic options, including a sale, or other alternatives such as a potential restructuring, one of the people said. Mark Patricof is the Houlihan banker working with the company, they added.
A representative for Gawker said in a statement, "We've always said we expect to prevail on appeal and we've always said we're exploring contingency plans of various sorts, so that's not new."
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 Clem.
Hogan testified that he did not know their consensual tryst was being recorded when it occurred nearly a decade ago.
Billionaire PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook, is helping Hogan bankroll his lawsuit against Gawker Media, he told the New York Times in an article published on Thursday.
(Reporting by Anya George Tharakan in Bengaluru and Liana B. Baker in New York; Editing by Ted Kerr and Dan Grebler)