Sports Illustrated’s future murky after massive layoffs

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By Dan Sears

Sports Illustrated is not dead yet.

The iconic publication is on life support after it was revealed Friday that The Arena Group, which runs the editorial operation, was laying off almost all its staff after its license to use the SI name was revoked.

Both The Arena Group and Authentic — which owns the the brand — have said they intend to continue operating the website and magazine, though it’s not yet clear how.

“We are going to continue to operate Sports Illustrated,” The Arena Group’s Matt Lombardi said. “Either Arena or someone else is going to have the license to operate Sports Illustrated.”

An Authentic representative told Awful Announcing it plans to continue with Sports Illustrated’s editorial operations, and would do so during any potential transition to a new publishing partner.

“This will not go dark,” the representative said. “It’s not an ideal situation any way you can cut it, but Authentic is determined to protect and provide stewardship for the brand. And that includes making sure the editorial arm continues to operate while partners are discussed and negotiations happen.”

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Historical covers of Sports Illustrated magazine
The Arena Group laid off most of the Sports Illustrated staff on Friday. Alamy Stock Photo

The Authenic was not aware of the layoffs beforehand.

“The layoffs are not an Authentic thing, they’re an Arena thing,” the representative said. “This is not something we were privy to.”

According to Front Office Sports, Authentic has already been in exploratory conversation to find a new publishing partner, though Axios reported that Bridge Media — which is owned by 5 Hour Energy founder Manoj Bhargava and set to merge with The Arena Group — is still in negotiations with Authentic.


The Sports Illustrated 2016 swimsuit issue of the magazine is seen with other tabloid magazines.
The Sports Illustrated 2016 swimsuit issue of the magazine is seen with other tabloid magazines. Corbis via Getty Images

A Friday SEC filing includes Arena owing Authentic $45 million after the revocation of the SI license.

Sports Illustrated, which began publishing in 1954, became a bastion of sports writing and photography in its heyday, but has since been sold from Time Inc. to Meredith and then to Authentic.

While there appear to be plans for it to continue in some form, it’s not clear what that form may be.

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