The future of iconic magazine Sports Illustrated looked dire Friday after the publisher announced mass layoffs.
The Arena Group — which had been roiled by reports that the fabled 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 it would make a “significant reduction” in its workforce of more than 100 journalists.
SI’s unionized workers received a memo Friday telling them “some employees will be terminated immediately, and paid in lieu of the 60-day applicable notice period under 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,” according to the memo obtained by The Post.
An Arena spokesman added that the company is in talks with Authentic Brands about regaining the license. Once a weekly publication, SI was reduced to biweekly publishing in 2018 and became a monthly in 2020.
“Even though the publishing license has been revoked we will continue to produce Sports Illustrated until this is resolved,” the rep said.
“We hope to be the company to take SI forward but if not, we are confident that someone will. If it is another business, we will support the transition so the legacy of Sports Illustrated doesn’t suffer.
The outlet’s website had a smattering of fresh stories Friday, suggesting a skeleton crew was still employed.
Meanwhile, SI’s annual Swimsuit edition – which launched the careers of supermodels 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 “will continue” – though 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-executive Junior Bridgeman, another source with knowledge told The Post.
“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 in a statement.
“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. We are committed to ensuring that the traditional ad-supported Sports Illustrated media pillar has best in class stewardship to preserve the complete integrity of the brand’s legacy.”
The magazine’s union members also called on Authentic to “ensure the continued publication of SI.”
“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,” Mitch Goldich, NFL editor and unit chair of the union, posted on X.
The magazine, 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.
Long considered a standard of excellence in sports journalism, it employed legendary sports writers like Frank Deford, Dan Jenkins, Peter Gammons, Sally Jenkins, Leigh Montville and Jim Murray.
Its iconic covers – which Michael Jordan graced a record 50 times – pictured the seminal moments in sports history, from the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980 to dubbing a 17-year-old high schooler named LeBron James “The Chosen One” in 2002.
“Very sad for my Sports Illustrated friends today, and for all of us who loved everything it used to be,” Rachel Nichols wrote in a post on X.
“A Sports Illustrated cover was, for decades, the number one starmaking vehicle in sports,” ESPN’s Kevin Clark added in a post. “It was what Carson was for a comedian or SNL was for a band. *Sports* is worse off without those things. That things got this bad this quickly is unfathomable and totally avoidable.”
SI has been practically rudderless since The Arena Group fired CEO Ross Levinsohn last month.
Arena Group’s majority stakeholder, 5-Hour Energy founder Manoj Bhargava, took over as CEO but abruptly stepped down on Jan. 5 after citing a “conflict of interest,” according to an SEC filing.
Jason Frankl of FTI Consulting was appointed as Arena’s chief business transformation officer on the day Bhargava stepped down.