Sports Illustrated Publishing Rights Secured by Minute Media, After Mass Layoffs Under Previous Partner

Minute Media, the sports media company that owns The Players’ Tribune, landed the publishing rights to Sports Illustrated — coming two months after a financial crisis at SI’s former publishing partner led to mass layoffs.

ABG had previously licensed the rights to publish Sports Illustrated the magazine to a company called Arena Group — but after the Arena Group missed a recent $3.75 million payment, in January, ABG revoked the license, leading the Arena Group to institute major job cuts at the publication.

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New York-based Minute Media said it plans to continue publishing a print edition of Sports Illustrated, which Arena Group had told staffers would cease this May, and hire back some of the employees who were laid off under Arena Group’s stewardship.

Authentic Brands Group, the holding company that owns the nearly 70-year-old Sports Illustrated brand, announced a long-term partnership with Minute Media for publishing rights to the legendary sports brand across digital and print platforms. Minute Media’s other sports and culture content brands are The Players’ Tribune, originally founded by Derek Jeter, FanSided, 90min and its most recent acquisition, STN Video, which has rights to premium highlights from every major sports league in North America for online video platform distribution.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. As part of the deal, Authentic will acquire an equity stake in Minute Media. Minute Media’s publishing license for Sports Illustrated will run 10 years, and the company has an option up it for an additional 20 years.

Sports Illustrated’s publishing portfolio includes Sports Illustrated, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit and Sports Illustrated Kids. Minute Media will oversee all digital and print editorial operations across the SI portfolio.

“Sports Illustrated is the gold standard for sports journalism and has been for nearly 70 years across both print and digital media. The weight and power of that distinction cannot be understated,” said Asaf Peled, founder and CEO of Minute Media. “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.”

In response to the news that Minute Media will be taking over as publisher of Sports Illustrated, the SI Union (affiliated with the NewsGuild of New York) said in a statement that it “look[s] forward to remaining part of the storied brand’s future.” “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. We look forward to discussing a future with Minute Media that does that,” said Emma Baccellieri, staff writer at Sports Illustrated and vice chair of the SI Union.

In 2019, Authentic Brands Group purchased Sports Illustrated from Meredith for $110 million (after Meredith had acquired Time Inc. and before Meredith was acquired by IAC’s Dotdash). When ABG bought SI, it laid off more than 30% of the publication’s staff. ABG licensed media and publishing rights for the SI brand to Maven, which had agreed to pay $45 million for the SI rights in addition to annual payments. Maven changed its name in 2021 to Arena Group; Manoj Bhargava, founder and CEO of the company that produces 5-Hour Energy drink, now owns a majority stake in Arena Group.

Daniel W. Dienst, ABG’s executive vice chairman of tactical ops, said in a statement, “In Minute Media we have found a partner that will honor SI’s lauded legacy and exceed fan expectations for the future. 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. Minute Media has successfully proven that they are leading the way in a new era of sports storytelling, and we are excited and optimistic about this partnership and the future of Sports Illustrated as the preeminent lens into sport.”

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