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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Is the Owner of 5-Hour Energy Drink Turning ‘Sports Illustrated’ Into a 5-Hour Energy Promotional Arm?

  • Since the arrival of Manoj Bhargava atop the group that operates ‘SI,’ staffers have voiced concerns about the outlet’s editorial autonomy.
  • Last week ‘SI’ ran a story lifted directly from promotional materials for a 5-Hour Energy racing sponsorship.
Sports Illustrated
Syndication Tuscaloosa News

Manoj Bhargava owns 5-Hour Energy, the caffeine-packed drink company. The billionaire also effectively controls Sports Illustrated. 

That’s why SI employees became concerned last week when a story appeared on SI.com under an “SI Staff” byline touting 5-Hour Energy’s sponsorship of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s IndyCar team. The first two paragraphs of the Feb. 22 news story mirrored a press release that went out from the 5-Hour Energy team the same day, and much of the rest of the copy was lifted verbatim from the statement

The news story, as pointed out in an email from the SI Union to its members (and obtained by Front Office Sports) “did not include any disclosure of Manoj Bhargava’s roles with 5-Hour Energy or Sl.” The story, according to that email, “was placed in the news stack on the homepage and sat there for more than 24 hours. Obviously, this is totally unacceptable and a blatant breach of the most basic journalistic ethics. We fought hard for … provisions in our contract to prevent just this type of meddling.”

The SI Union has filed a grievance over the story, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the filing. It’s unclear whether Bhargava personally insisted that the story run, but since his arrival staffers have voiced concerns about the editorial autonomy at SI, fearing that those loyal to him are putting SI’s storied reputation at risk, according to multiple internal SI sources. 

Bhargava has spent more than $120 million over the last several months to seize control of the Arena Group—the media company that operates SI—through the accumulation of stock and debt. Included in his arrangement with Arena is a guaranteed five-year, $60 million commitment to advertise Bhargava’s consumer-brand company, Simplify Inventions, across Arena’s various arms, including SI, Men’s Journal and The Street. Arena, meanwhile, remains entangled in a dispute with Authentic Brands Group, the licensing behemoth that owns SI

Authentic moved to terminate the Sports Illustrated licensing agreement last month after Arena missed a $3.75 million payment, coinciding with mass layoffs at SI. Arena continues to operate SI as Bhargava and his representatives seek to rework a 10-year operating agreement with Authentic, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions. Authentic has also held discussions with potential new operators of SI, suggesting that its arrangement with Arena could come to an end.

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