The publisher of Sports Illustrated is laying off much of the storied magazine’s entire staff.
The news, first reported by Front Office Sports, came less than 24 hours after publisher The Arena Group announced “a significant reduction in its workforce,” comprising 100 employees. Arena said it continued to manage “substantial” debt and recently missed payments, and that the layoffs were part of “cost-cutting measures to initiate a transformative shift towards a streamlined business model.”
According to FOS, Sports Illustrated’s parent company, Authentic Brands Group, has sought to revoke Arena’s license to publish SI after Arena missed a payment.
Richard Deitsch of The Athletic separately tweeted Friday an image of an email sent out to workers that said “staff” who worked for the Sports Illustrated brand were being laid off.
The union representing SI’s staff said in a tweeted statement that it had been notified of Arena’s intention to “lay off a significant number, possibly all” of its union-represented staff.
“This is another difficult day in what has been a difficult four years for Sports Illustrated under Arena Group (previously The Maven) stewardship,” the union said in a statement. “We are calling on ABG to ensure the continued publication of SI and allow it to serve our audience in the way it has for nearly 70 years,” the statement read, using an acronym for Authentic Brands Group.
In a statement, Authentic Brands confirmed it had terminated The Arena Group’s license to serve as the publisher of Sports Illustrated as a result of its failure to pay its quarterly license fee — but said that the SI brand would live on.
‘Authentic is here to ensure that the brand of Sports Illustrated, which includes its editorial arm, continues to thrive as it has for the past nearly 70 years,’ the company said. ‘We are confident that going forward the brand will continue to evolve and grow in a way that serves sports news readers, sports fans, and consumers.’
Arena Group said in a statement it continues to negotiate with Authentic and that it will continue to produce Sports Illustrated until the negotiations are resolved.
‘We hope to be the company to take SI forward but if not, we are confident that someone will,’ it said. ‘If it is another business, we will support with the transition so the legacy of Sports Illustrated doesn’t suffer.”
Long published by Time-Life, Sports Illustrated was sold by successor group Time Inc. to Meredith Corp., best known for publishing Better Homes & Gardens, in 2018, whereupon it was reduced to a biweekly publication.
In 2019, Authentic, which owns a host of clothing and lifestyle brands, purchased SI.
Sports Illustrated drew headlines last fall after the tech news outlet Futurism reported that it appeared SI had published AI-generated stories, photos and authors.
Following those reports, Arena ousted CEO Ross Levinsohn and replaced him with Manoj Bhargava, the founder and CEO of Innovations Ventures, known for creating the 5-hour Energy drink. Bhargava himself subsequently stepped down in January to avoid unspecified potential conflicts of interest.
Arena also oversees TheStreet, Parade and Men’s Journal.
The Sports Illustrated brand may yet live on in an unexpected form: In 2022, Authentic announced it had partnered with a developer and a hospitality group to launch Sports Illustrated Resorts, “a new premium, lifestyle resort and entertainment destinations.” The first location has already opened in the Dominican Republic.