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Report: Entire Sports Illustrated Staff Has Been Laid Off

As you may recall, Sports Illustrated was recently caught in a scandal regarding their unethical use of AI-generated content. That in turn led to more embarrassing revelations, and now the other shoe has finally dropped: Front Office Sports is reporting that the entire SI staff has been laid off.

The situation regarding SI is complicated and confusing, so let me recap a few things to help provide a bit of context:

  • SI was owned for many years by Time Inc., a media publisher. In 2018, Time Inc.’s stable of magazines, including SI, was purchased by Meredith, another media publisher. But it was understood at the time that Meredith mainly wanted People and a couple of other Time Inc. titles and that they’d probably sell off SI as soon as they could find a suitable buyer.
  • In 2019, Meredith sold SI to the Authentic Brands Group (ABG), which is not a media publisher. ABG collects old, familiar brands that are past their primes and tries to extract value from them by leveraging them in new contexts. In the case of SI, they planned to create SI bars and restaurants, SI gyms, SI hotels, and so on. They were mainly buying the name “Sports Illustrated.”
  • But of course SI is also a media property, not just a brand name. So when ABG purchased SI from Meredith, they licensed the SI publishing operation, including all the SI archives, to a dude-bro douchebag publisher called TheMaven. It was TheMaven that then laid off a bunch of SI staffers in late 2019 (including me).
  • So over the past three years or so, ABG has owned SI, but TheMaven has been running SI. All the ridiculous things that have happened to SI during that time have been due to TheMaven.
  • Just to make things a bit more confusing, TheMaven changed its name to Arena in 2021.
  • As I mentioned, ABG licensed the SI publishing operation to Maven/Arena — which means, of course, that Maven/Arena was paying a licensing fee for the privilege of running SI into the ground. Earlier this month, ABG warned Maven/Arena that the license might be revoked because Maven/Arena had failed to make its most recent quarterly licensing payment. What a surprise!

Today’s layoffs are the result of ABG making good on that warning. They have terminated Maven/Arena’s license, leaving Maven/Arena with no more SI to publish, which is why they’ve laid off the staff.

What does this all mean going forward? Well, as you may have noticed, the landscape is not yet dotted with SI spas, gyms, and cafes, so ABG hasn’t exactly made good on its plan to turn SI into a lifestyle brand. That means all they have left from their investment is the publishing operation, which I fully expect them to license to someone else (which means at least some of the staffers will probably be rehired). But given how damaged the SI brand is at this point, the price will likely be low, the purchaser will likely be sketchy, and the resulting content will likely be even worse than it’s recently been. Too bad.

Update: The New York Times has a good report — more thorough than the original Front Office Sports report — about what went down at SI today.

Comments (50)

    There was a time, when a new delivery of Sports Illustrated meant something.

    The SI Covers were historical, and we enjoyed reading front to back.

    Never can “LAYOFF” our memories.

    Wouldn’t mind seeing a company like Wapo or WSJ buy it and make it something like the Athletic. If That would even be possible/worth it.

    Genuinely curious: Which print/legacy outlet is profitable these days? In this landscape we’re in now it feels like nobody is making money.

    Man I miss skateboarding with my surfboard to the closest 7-11 when I was a kid to get the newest swimsuit issue on the way to a surf competition.

    Dude that sounds like so much fun…right out of an 80s movie…
    I used to have to ride in the backseat of my mom’s car to the pharmacy for SI and comic books…

    I just watched an early-’70s episode of the game show “What’s My Line?” in which host Larry Blyden thanked Sports Illustrated for their help in arranging an appearance by Brooks Robinson as the episode’s Mystery Guest. Those were the days!

    What happened at SI over the last several.years has beenan American tragedy. I remember buying it regularly in the 1980s and 1990s. It was the Bible of American sports. It was published weekly, then every couple of weeks, then monthly.

    Besides, they started messing with its biggest cash cow, the swimsuit issue. For years, it was published in February, when people wanted to see warm climes instead of the cold that they had with. Then they moved it to May and then July during the pamdemic. The models became household names, especially the ones who got the cover. Cheryl! Christie! Kathy! For a generation, they were people swimsuit issue readers wanted to marry.

    Cheryl! Christie! Kathy! For a generation, they were people swimsuit issue readers wanted to marry.

    I don’t think marriage was the readers’ primary fantasy.

    Say what you will about straight men’s motivation for getting the magazine: It was also far and away the best-selling fashion magazine annually for women. It truly set the pace for trends, not just for swimwear but accessories, colors and materials.

    When I came out to visit your humble Big Apple in 2016, Paul, it was for a fashion show my wife was in the day after we had the chance to meet. The day after the show, we planned to visit the Statue of Liberty before flying home that night. However, I saw by chance they were having an open-to-the-public premiere party for the Swimsuit Edition midtown. I jokingly suggested to my wife we should go, thinking she’d give me an eyeroll. Instead, she thought it was a great idea.

    We went and she got her picture with most of the models in that year’s edition. Erin Heatherton is a sweetheart and Gigi Hadid has a great sense of humor. Who knew. link

    I also consistently refer to it as the greatest idea I will ever have in my life for anyone who cares to ask. The phrase “I’ve been in a room with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models” comes up more times in my life than I anticipated it would.

    That aside, the Swim brand was probably the most valuable of the SI properties. That may survive in some way, shape or form. I have more doubts about the actual sports content.

    This comes on the heels of the NFL threatening to buy ESPN and basically take wipe what little neutrality in journalism they have left out.

    Sports journalism is slowly dying before our eyes.

    I don’t think marriage was the readers’ primary fantasy.

    It’s not often PL gets article of the day and COTD in the same post. Kudos!

    Before internet I would purchase a sports illustrated magazine at the airport when I would travel and read it from front to back as soon as the airplane hit its spot in the sky, ahhh.

    Sad day. SI used to be a must read publication. I used to look forward to receiving my physical copy before the web, and then it was part of my daily web reading.

    I’ve seen some SI branded clothing, I think at JCPenney. And we all know how JCPenney’s doing.

    Good call. I’ve seen that, too. Such an odd placement. Considering many folks here are reminiscing on SI being such a cherished brand in the 80s/90s, it seems like *then* would have been the time to branch out with gyms, restaurants, merch, etc. Now it’s likely too late. Sigh.

    Hell, ESPN had their ESPN Zone restaurants from (according to Wikipedia) ’98 to ’18, though the last one outside of LA/Anaheim closed in 2010. ESPN was/is certainly a more viable and ubiquitous brand than SI, so if they couldn’t make it, I doubt SI-themed restaurants would generate much interest now.

    It’ll probably wind up as a line of shitty sports-themed toys and apparel you find at like super-discount retail stores like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Burlington.

    When I was a kid, my dream job was to work for Sports Illustrated.

    I’m not a kid anymore, but I still dream about being at SI; at least, the SI I can remember.


    Such a shame what has become of SI. Especially given the sports news landscape now. So many outlets that report on sports also have media rights deals with the leagues. Sports media is in bed with the very leagues they report on. Greed is not only slowly destroying sports as we knew them, but also keeping reporters silent from covering how all the greed-based decisions are damaging the sports.
    Perhaps there is an ethical publisher out there willing to take over the SI platform and use if for real sports journalism.

    My dad got me a subscription to SI when I was 8, in the summer of 1984. It was The Thing I waited for once a week to come in the mail. 8-Year Old Me would not understand how we got to where we are in 2024.

    Throw in the rapid decline of ESPN into douche-bro territory, and sports journalism in this country is dead.

    You are speaking, of course, of that clown who wears a black wife-beater on national TV.

    I concur completely.

    I agree completely. Used to look forward to College Gameday on Saturday mornings. They brought “him” in and ruined it. I miss the days of just having a couple people talking football. Now, there has to be a group of no less than 5 people laughing hysterically about anything anyone says.

    One of the greatest issues of SI that I can remember was the double football issue (back in the 80’s). It was both college and pro football in one. It was one of the best previews I can ever remember reading. I held onto that for the entire season. SI was a must read for any sports fan.

    WSJ’s headline says it all:

    “Sports Illustrated Lays Off Most of Its Staff, Putting Brand’s Future in Jeopardy”

    Not the “publication’s” future, but the “brand’s”. The publication is already long lost. They even gave it a knife twist, referring to it as “the once-prestigious magazine” in the first paragraph.

    Not only that, but the email that Maven/Arena sent to employees said, “As a result of this license revocation, we will be laying off staff that work on the SI brand”

    Not worked on SI, mind you — the SI brand.

    Symptom of a cultural illness.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see a company like Fanatics buy the rights to the SI brand and back catalog, solely to sell SI branded merch and reprinted back issues, similar to when they purchased Topps.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, Fanatics has been terrible for the consumer, but such is life in 2024.

    RIP… started with SI for Kids and then was a regular SI subscriber for a long time.

    My kids now subscribe to SI for Kids and they were starting to get to age where I was thinking about switching to regular for them.

    I cannot reinstate how important SI for Kids is to appeal to kids who don’t like to read. Having short small articles about their favorite playersaccessible is such a step into getting kids interested in reading and writing

    I still have like 20 of the posters that came with each copy of SI Kids on the walls of my childhood bedroom. Matt Forte and Tim Tebow didn’t quite turn out as expected… but I like that little snapshot of time

    I was a SI subscriber from 1991 maybe 1997, and learned quite a lot during that era, especially sports teams that I didn’t really care for, as well as sports that I didn’t watch or have any interest in, like tennis. Hell I even liked the ads!

    I recall having a subscription to SI back in the 80s and 90s. To my surprise, in the the Oct 1, 1990 issue was an article about fencing. And not just any fencer but Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden, one of the most influential heavy metal bands of all time. I was, and still am, a huge fan of them so it was a treasure to see this in print. I still have the issue and someday hope to get Bruce to sign it.


    A sad, sad story. I have a long, long history as a reader, fan, and multi-decade subscriber to SI. I loved that magazine. It was superb.

    Hope it can bounce back somehow, but with the state of print media these days, it might just be better to shovel dirt on it and keep the memories.

    I really miss intelligent, long-form journalism, even if it’s a joke. No, especially when it’s allowed to be a joke.

    As an avid reader of just about anything anyone puts in front of me, reading The Curious Case of Sidd Finch as a kid still stands out in my mind as a formative “article” and moment in my life.

    They *do* have SI Tickets and Box Office as licensed entities, a primary and secondary market ticket seller.

    I don’t want to bring too radical of politics into the comments, but frankly, I don’t know how you can look at this and not realize that something is fundamentally wrong with our society and culture that private equity is able to buy out and tank THE premiere name in sports journalism in the span of roughly a decade. I don’t know precisely what policy to change, but it’s just… wrong that this is possible.

    I share your disdain for private equity, Grant, but I don’t think that’s what this is about. SI had stopped being “THE premiere name in sports journalism” well before PE got involved. They got rid of their last staff photographer (the “Illustrated” part, right?) in 2015, when they were still part of Time Inc.

    And why did they do that (among other newsroom cutbacks while they were still at Time Inc.)? Because, like so many print publications, they couldn’t find a business model that worked on the internet. Private equity eventually acquired SI just to pick the remaining meat off the sickly bones (which, after all, is what PE does).

    And why did SI have such difficulty finding a feasible internet business model? Because so many people refuse to pay for journalism on the internet. I wonder how many of the people lamenting SI’s demise today subscribe to any paywalled journalism. I’m sure some of them do, but I bet some don’t. I’m not saying anyone should have been paying for SI content lately — it hasn’t been a good product. But in general, if you value good journalism, it’s important to support it financially. SI is a good object lesson about what can happen if we all treat free content as an entitlement. In the end, you get what you pay for.

    I studied English, not Economics, so I’m like the emergency kicker on this topic, but it seems to me that business models are constantly changing, and it’s the best and the brightest who will find a way to continue to compete. And while it is true that we consumers usually get what we pay for, that is also true for corporations, and when they continually sacrifice their employees’ welfare at the altar of boardroom profits, they get writing that no one reads and planes that can’t stay airborne.

    Crappy content that nobody reads and planes that don’t fly are not antithetical to the corporate ethos of milking every last penny out of a dying carcass until there’s no value left to exploit, and then you move on to the next carcass.

    In other words: For the corporate douchebags pulling the strings, the crappy content and defective planes are a feature, not a bug. But for the rest of us (i.e., non-shareholders), we’re left holding the bag.

    SI is such a dinosaur it deserves to die. Just like Sportscenter but worse. Too delayed and porn is free. Plus whos in the market for a plastic football land line phone nowadays anyways.

    And as a tangent, sometime after Meredith, a longtime physical print magazine publisher, sold off the SI brand, they themselves were bought by a digital publishing company, DotDash who previously did not have any physical print experience. It’s a very turbulent time in the publication industry.

    Given that the only marketable asset SI has left is the swimsuit issue, and given that the only marketable asset US News and World Report has is its college and grad school rankings, I suggest that US News purchase SI and publish each February the US News and World Report Swimsuit Issue.

    It has definitely felt like SI was phoning it in to simply create content at times lately. Some of their articles were just Twitter reactions to something that happened in a game with no other context. It was thankfully easy to figure out and not click on those articles. Sad for their legacy and for losing a valuable cultural connection.

    Definitely a sad day, admittedly this is a “No Shit Sherlock” comment, but SI thrived in a day, where you couldn’t just click on a website and get all the most update analysis. Real tough to compete against that. One thing I remember that came back to me with this sad news, every issue in its prime, had this long detailed article at the back, which could almost be about anything. Recall reading an article on super agent Mark McCormack which fascinated me as a kid.

    SI got me into American sports back in 1971, an issue I got from my neighbor in Amsterdam. I do not have that issue, nor the neighbor any more and I miss them both. Getting my hands on any SI issue was like the highest of high in a country, a continent without coverage of American sports. The swimsuit issue? No, the college football or basketball preview please!

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