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Publisher of Sports Illustrated Lays Off Entire Staff

Evolving Media Landscape Puts Sports Illustrated in the Eye of the Storm

Sports Illustrated
German pop star Kim Petras is one of this year's cover models for Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue. PHOTO BY SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

The seismic shift in the landscape of Sports Illustrated has sent shockwaves through the media industry, as the owner of the iconic magazine, Authentic Brands Group (ABG), took the unprecedented step of terminating the entire staff, raising questions about the future of this nearly 70-year-old publication. The decision follows a tumultuous series of events, culminating in the termination of the licensing agreement with The Arena Group, a move that came to light three weeks after Arena failed to fulfill a critical $2.8 million payment, thereby breaching the magazine’s licensing deal.

The intricate history of Sports Illustrated takes a central role in understanding the gravity of this situation. Acquired by ABG from Meredith in 2019 for $10 million, the magazine holds a storied legacy in the world of sports journalism. As it approaches its 70th anniversary in August, the sudden termination of the entire staff signals a watershed moment for a publication that has been a cultural touchstone for sports enthusiasts around the globe.

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An official communication from ABG confirmed the license revocation, prompting immediate terminations for some employees. The remaining staff is expected to fulfill their notice period, underscoring the abrupt nature of this development. The union representing Sports Illustrated employees has rallied to demand that Arena, previously known as Maven until 2021, continues publishing the magazine. Their plea underscores a commitment to upholding the publication’s standards and ensuring fair treatment for its dedicated workforce.

Meanwhile, Authentic Brands Group, now under the leadership of Manoj Bhargava, founder of 5-Hour Energy, is navigating uncharted waters. The conglomerate, which owns a diverse portfolio of publications, is reportedly engaging in discussions across its various properties to formulate new strategies. The future trajectory of Sports Illustrated remains uncertain, with speculation rife about ABG’s intentions – whether to take over and eliminate Arena or to allow Arena an opportunity to renegotiate its deal.

Arena’s tumultuous journey, marked by leadership changes, layoffs, AI-generated articles, and thematic shifts in the renowned Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, has contributed to the current crossroads. The significant layoffs, exceeding 1000 employees, were executed by Arena executives, the board of directors, and Jason Frankl of FTI Consulting. Frankl, acknowledging the regrettable necessity of these layoffs, has articulated his immediate focus on collaboratively designing a growth-oriented media company that ensures financial stability, promising to share detailed plans soon.

As the saga of Sports Illustrated unfolds, the industry is left in suspense, awaiting clarity on the magazine’s fate and the strategic direction that Authentic Brands Group will chart for this revered publication. The unfolding events underscore the challenges and transformations occurring in the media landscape, where legacy publications grapple with the evolving dynamics of content consumption, digital disruption, and the imperative to adapt to shifting audience preferences.

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