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Sports Illustrated planning significant layoffs after license to use its brand name was revoked

Jan 19, 2024, 2:33 PM

FILE - A George Mason University fan holds up the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine at a send of...

FILE - A George Mason University fan holds up the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine at a send off for the team, Wednesday, March 29, 2006, in Fairfax, Va. The publisher of Sports Illustrated has notified employees it is planning to lay off a significant portion — possibly all — of the outlet's staff after its license to use the iconic brand's name in print and digital was revoked. In an email to employees Friday morning, Jan. 19, 2024, the Arena Group, which operates Sports Illustrated and related properties, said that Authentic Brands Group has revoked its marketing license. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson, File)

(AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — The publisher of Sports Illustrated has notified employees it is planning to lay off a significant portion — possibly all — of the outlet’s staff after its license to use the iconic brand’s name in print and digital was revoked.

In an email to employees Friday morning, the Arena Group, which operates Sports Illustrated and related properties, said that Authentic Brands Group has revoked its marketing license.

“As a result of this license revocation, we will be laying off staff that work on the SI brand,” the email said.

Authentic said in a statement it intends to keep the Sports Illustrated brand going, but it’s unclear if current staff will be part of whatever is next.

Sports Illustrated’s employee union said in a statement that the layoffs would be a significant number and possibly all, of the NewsGuild workers represented.

“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, said in a statement.

The guild’s statement also called for Authentic Brands Group to “ensure the continued publication of SI and allow it to serve our audience in the way it has for nearly 70 years.”

Ensure the brand of Sports Illustrated

Authentic said in a statement it 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. 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.”

In a statement on Friday, the Arena Group said it was negotiating with Authentic about the license, “with plans to sustain our commitment to delivering quality content throughout the ongoing discussions.”

Arena admitted that it had failed to make a quarterly payment of $3.75 million and Authentic had put it on notice that it intended to end the licensing agreement. As a result, Arena announced Thursday it would make a “significant reduction” in its workforce of more than 100 people.

The Arena Group acquired publishing rights from Authentic in 2019 for at least 10 years. The group’s stewardship of Sports Illustrated has had many hurdles since then. In December, it fired chief executive officer Ross Levinsohn when the magazine’s alleged use of AI-generated stories drew public backlash.

Sports Illustrated has had a rough six years. It was acquired by Meredith Publishing in 2018 as part of the purchase of Time Inc., which started the magazine in 1954.

Less than a year later, Meredith sold the magazine’s intellectual property to Authentic for $110 million. Authentic owns the intellectual property of many brands and stars, including Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali and Reebok.

Once a weekly publication, Sports Illustrated was reduced to biweekly publishing in 2018 and became a monthly in 2020.

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Sports Illustrated planning significant layoffs after license to use its brand name was revoked