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‘Sports Illustrated’ Will Continue to Publish

  • Minute Media, which owns ‘FanSided’ and ‘The Players’ Tribune,’ takes over the license on a 10-year deal.
  • The Arena Group, which instituted mass layoffs earlier this year, is now out.
Phil Masturzo 1 / USA TODAY NETWORK

Sports Illustrated isn’t dead yet. 

Authentic—the licensing giant that owns Sports Illustrated, as well as such other brands as Brooks Brothers and Shaquille O’Neal—struck a deal with Minute Media to publish the magazine and website. Financial terms were not made public when the new arrangement was announced Monday. 

“Given the incredibly fast and delicate nature of this deal, we will spend the next few weeks getting to know the SI leadership and do our best to establish a strategic plan that does right by the people and ensures sustained growth for the brand,” Asaf Peled, founder and CEO of Minute Media, wrote in an email to Minute Media staff obtained by Front Office Sports. “We will manage this transition with the utmost sensitivity.”

In public, he struck a similar tone. “Sports Illustrated is the gold standard for sports journalism and has been for nearly 70 years across both print and digital media,” Peled said in a statement. “At Minute Media, our focus will be to take that legacy into new, emerging channels enhancing visibility, commercial viability and sustainable impact, all while ensuring that the SI team is inspired to flourish in this new era of media.”

Minute Media is a digital media company founded in Israel in 2011, which owns properties such as FanSided and The Players’ Tribune. The agreement begins immediately and takes away Sports Illustrated’s operations from The Arena Group, which previously had the publishing license, and puts them into the hands of Minute Media. 

The initial deal is for 10 years with the option to extend it with two more 10-year deals, a source with knowledge of the agreement tells FOS. Authentic will take a stake in Minute Media as part of the deal. Minute Media, which was founded in 2011, generates more than $400 million in annual revenue and plans to both continue the magazine’s print edition and expand its publishing operations globally. 

“In Minute Media we have found a partner that will honor SI’s lauded legacy and exceed fan expectations for the future,” Daniel W. Dienst, an Authentic executive vice chairman, said in a statement. “As Minute Media shepherds the SI brand across a rapidly evolving media landscape, our priority at Authentic is—and has always been—to protect its journalistic integrity and longevity.”

An Arena spokesperson tells FOS that it had been notified of Authentic’s deal with Minute Media, but that Arena had “no further details at this point.”

Authentic acquired SI from Meredith Corp. in May 2019 for $110 million, months after Meredith purchased Time Inc., the original owner of the venerable magazine, which launched in 1954. Authentic soon entered a 10-year, $150 million deal with start-up Maven. (Maven’s name changed to The Arena Group in ’21.) The deal included an upfront payment of $45 million to Authentic. 

The first major move for the company now known as Arena was to lay off staff and cut the publishing schedule of the print magazine to monthly. (After decades as a weekly publication, SI had moved to twice a month in 2018.) There had been bumps in the years since Arena became SI’s publisher but nothing like what staffers have seen over the last few months. 

The high drama began after it was announced in August that 5-Hour Energy founder Manoj Bhargava purchased a majority stake in The Arena Group, with plans to merge it with his Bridge Media Networks. Bhargava acquired about a 65% stake in Arena and agreed to a five-year, $60 million advertising commitment to tout his 5-Hour Energy and other companies. 

Arena missed a $3.75 million payment to Arena at the end of December. In January, Authentic moved to terminate Arena’s SI publishing deal—and Arena instituted mass layoffs at SI

“We have said from the start that our top priorities are to keep Sports Illustrated alive, uphold the legacy of the institution and protect our union jobs,” Emma Baccellieri, staff writer for SI and vice chair for the SI Union, said in a statement to FOS. “We look forward to discussing a future with Minute Media that does that.”

Last week, FOS reported that Authentic took back control of the SI swimsuit edition from Arena even as Arena made moves to lay off swim edition staff.

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