In a move that could spell the end of an iconic brand, Sports Illustrated’s corporate owner informed employees Friday that it’s laying off “a significant number, possibly all” of the magazine’s unionized staff, the union said.
The magazine’s future is in the hands of Authentic Brands Group, its owner since 2019. Shortly after acquiring the magazine, ABG sold SI’s publishing rights to a company called the Arena Group, which missed a recent payment for those rights, according to the union. ABG responded by pulling the Arena Group’s publishing license, leading to Friday’s mass layoffs.
“This is another difficult day in what has been a difficult four years for Sports Illustrated under Arena Group (previously The Maven) stewardship,” the union, which has about 80 members, said in a statement. “We are calling on ABG to ensure the continued publication of SI and allow it to serve our audience in the way it has for nearly 70 years.”
Some employees were immediately terminated, while others will work through a 90-day notice period, the notice to staff obtained by The Washington Post said.
When reached for comment about SI’s future, ABG did not address the layoffs but said it plans to maintain SI’s editorial presence.
“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.”
The SI union also vowed to put pressure on its owner.
“We have fought together as a union to maintain the standard of this storied publication that we love, and to make sure out workers are treated fairly for the value they bring to this company,” NFL editor and union chair Mitch Goldich said in a statement. “It is a fight we will continue.”
SI launched in 1954 under Time Inc. and has long been seen as the gold standard of sports journalism, featuring in-depth, long-form articles and distinctive photo spreads. But the magazine has floundered in its attempts to serve online readers, and has been passed around to different owners in recent years.
Time Inc. sold SI to the Meredith Corporation in 2018, which then sold it to ABG the following year. ABG has no background in journalism, and its monetization plans for SI included resorts, sports betting and “brain formula” nutrition supplements. In November, the magazine came under fire for accusations it was deceptively publishing artificial intelligence-generated content, even going so far as to include AI-generated author photos and bylines.
SI isn’t the only media brand facing turmoil this week. On Friday, The Los Angeles Times union planned a walkout to protest looming widespread layoffs. Management is fighting to gut seniority protections in its contract with the union in an attempt to widen the pool of workers to lay off. It’s the newsroom’s first union work stoppage in the paper’s 143-year history.
Earlier this week, Condé Nast announced it was folding legacy music outlet Pitchfork into the men’s magazine GQ. At least eight staffers were laid off as a result of the merger.