July 14, 2024

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Tell all Sports Illustrated employees that they will be laid off from their jobs

Tell all Sports Illustrated employees that they will be laid off from their jobs

The future of Sports Illustrated looked bleak Friday after the outlet's diminished publisher announced mass layoffs due to the cancellation of its license to use the iconic brand name in print and digital.

Arena Group — which has been troubled by reports that the legendary magazine published AI-generated content — admitted to failing to make a $3.75 million quarterly licensing payment to Authentic Brands Group due this week.

As a result, the publicly traded Arena announced Thursday that it would make a “significant reduction” in its workforce of more than 100 journalists.

SI's unionized workers received a memo on Friday telling them that “certain employees will be terminated immediately, and paid in lieu of the applicable 60-day notice period required by law.” [union contract]”.

“The People team will contact employees who have their last day of work today. Other employees are expected to work until the end of the notice period and will receive additional information soon,” according to the memo obtained by the newspaper.

A George Mason fan holds up a Sports Illustrated magazine in 2006. AP

An Arena spokesperson added that the company is in talks with Authentic Brands about restoring the license. Once published weekly, SI was reduced to bi-weekly publication in 2018 and became monthly in 2020.

“Despite the revocation of our publishing license, we will continue to produce Sports Illustrated until this issue is resolved,” the representative said.

“We hope to be the company that moves SI forward, but if not, we are confident that someone will. If it is another business, we will support the transition so that Sports Illustrated's legacy is not damaged.”

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The outlet's website had a few new stories Friday, indicating a small staff is still working.

Meanwhile, SI's annual swimsuit issue — which launched the careers of models from Cheryl Tiegs to Tyra Banks — has been completed and will be released in the spring, a source close to the situation told The Post.

Authentic Brands, owned by Canadian billionaire Jamie Salter, insisted SI would “continue” – although it did not say who would be at the helm.

The company has received interest in a licensing deal for SI from Vox, Essence, Penske Media and former NBA star turned CEO Junior Bridgeman, another source familiar with the matter told The Post.

“Authentic is here to ensure that the Sports Illustrated brand, which includes its editorial arm, continues to thrive as it has for the past nearly 70 years,” the company said in a statement.

“We are confident that the brand will continue to evolve and grow in a way that serves sports news readers, sports fans and consumers. We are committed to ensuring that traditional ad-supported media anchor Sports Illustrated has best-in-class management to maintain the full integrity of the brand's legacy.”

Members of the magazine's guild also called on Authentic to “ensure the continued publication of SI.”

“We have fought together as a union to maintain the standard of this publication we love, and to make sure that our workers are treated fairly for the value they bring to this company. It is a fight we will continue,” Mitch Goldich, NFL editor and union unit president, said. Published on X.

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The magazine, which was first published in 1954, was owned by Time Inc. until 2018 when it was acquired by publishing giant Meredith. It quickly turned around and sold SI to Authentic for $110 million.

Sports Illustrated has covered many of the world's biggest events and made annual headlines with its swimsuit issue.
Michael Jordan was the athlete featured most often on the cover.

Long considered a standard of excellence in sports journalism, it has employed legendary sportswriters such as Frank Deford, Dan Jenkins, Peter Gammons, Sally Jenkins, Lee Montville and Jim Murray.

These iconic covers — which Michael Jordan starred in a record 50 times — depicted defining moments in sports history, from 1980's “Miracle on Ice” to the dubbing of a 17-year-old high school student named LeBron “The Chosen One” James in 2002.

“So sad for my friends at Sports Illustrated today, and for all of us who loved everything that used to be,” Rachel Nichols he wrote in a post on X.

“The Sports Illustrated cover has, for decades, been the number one star-making vehicle in sports,” ESPN's Kevin Clark added in a post. “It's what Carson was to the comedian or SNL was to the band. *Sports* are worse off without these things. For things to get worse so quickly is unfathomable and completely avoidable.”

SI has been virtually rudderless since Arena Group sacked CEO Ross Levinson last month.

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Levinson, who has held the position since 2020, was severely criticized by a technology website Futurism It reported that it found AI-generated content that included bylines and images of fake authors.

Arena Group majority owner Manoj Bhargava, founder of 5-Hour Energy, took over as CEO but abruptly resigned on January 5 after citing a “conflict of interest.” According to an SEC filing.

FTI Consulting's Jason Frankel was named chief business transformation officer at Arena on the day Bhargava stepped down.