The owner of Sports Illustrated has ended the employment of the publication’s entire staff, leaving the very existence of the nearly 70-year-old magazine in doubt.
The licensing group that owns the sports mag has terminated its agreement with The Arena Group to continue publishing the magazine three weeks after Arena missed a $2.8 million payment, a deficit that breached the magazine’s licensing deal, according to Front Office Sports.
Authentic bought SI out from Meredith in 2019 for $10 million. If it continues publishing, the magazine will turn 70 years old this August.
An email announcing the decision says in part, “We were notified by Authentic Brands Group (ABG) that the license under which the Arena Group operates the Sports Illustrated (SI) brand and SI-related properties had been officially revoked by ABG. As a result of this license revocation, we will be laying off staff that work on the SI brand.”
“Some employees will be terminated immediately,” the statement continued, “and paid in lieu of the applicable notice period under the [the union contract]. Employees with a last working day of today will be contacted by the People team soon. Other employees will be expected to work through the end of the notice period and will receive additional information shortly.”
The union representing the Sports Illustrated employees responded by demanding that Arena continue publishing the magazine.
“We have fought together as a union to maintain the standard of this storied publication that we love and to make sure our workers are treated fairly for the value they bring to this company. It is a fight we will continue,” wrote Mitch Goldich, NFL editor and unit chair.
Our statement on today’s mass layoffs at Sports Illustrated pic.twitter.com/tQjJdoHP4p
— Sports Illustrated Union (@si_union) January 19, 2024
According to insiders, Authentic has been reaching out to all its various publications to discuss new plans going forward after Manoj Bhargava, the founder of 5-Hour Energy, took over the leadership of the publisher and licensing company.
It is not known if Authentic intends to take over Sports Illustrated and eliminate Arena or will allow Arena to try to renegotiate its deal.
Arena (which operated under the name Maven until 2021) agreed to pay Authentic $45 million in a 10-year licensing deal. But it appears that Authentic has been unhappy with the chaotic operations of the sports magazine, which has undergone multiple leadership changes, rounds of layoffs eliminating top staffers, and bouts with troubled articles written by artificial intelligence, as well as an emphasis on plus-sized models in the legendary Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
Arena also fired more than 1000 employees throughout its organization. These layoffs were instituted by Arena executives, its board of directors, and Jason Frankl of FTI Consulting.
“My immediate focus is to collaboratively design a growth-oriented media company, ensuring the financial stability necessary to cultivate and grow the brands we cherish,” Frankl said in a statement on Friday. “While this week’s layoffs were regrettably necessary, I look forward to sharing detailed plans soon.”