Sports Illustrated announces mass layoff, leaving magazine's future in doubt

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 01: October 16, 1972 Sports Illustrated cover and signed limited edition Wilt Chamberlain sports porcelain figurine on display during the press preview at Sotheby's Auction House on August 01, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)
Sports Illustrated and its legendary covers once represented the pinnacle of the medium. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images) (Rodin Eckenroth via Getty Images)

The publisher of Sports Illustrated is reportedly laying off most, maybe all, of the outlet's staff. The move, accompanied by a revoked publishing license, could signify the end of what was once the most iconic brand in sports journalism.

The news was reported by A.J. Perez of Front Office Sports, who indicated that the mass layoff would include Sports Illustrated's entire staff. It comes less than a day after The Arena Group, Sports Illustrated's publisher, announced plans for "a significant reduction in its workforce."

Sports Illustrated media group consists of the longtime magazine, SI Swimsuit, The Spun and other publications. Arena also owns finance and lifestyle media groups The Street and Parade. It said that more than 100 employees would lose their jobs as the company attempts to manage "substantial" debt.

In 2019, Sports Illustrated was sold to Authentic Brands Group, which subsequently sold its publishing rights to Arena. Arena recently missed a $3.75 million payment that broke the company’s licensing deal, prompting Authentic to revoke the publishing license, per FOS.

The report goes on to say that some employees were given 90 days’ notice and there remains a possibility that the licensing deal will be resolved during that time.

Sports Illustrated's union expressed commitment to fighting for the magazine and its staff in a statement released Friday.

“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 said. "We are calling on [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.”

Richard Deitsch, who left Sports Illustrated for The Athletic, shared an image of the email sent to Sports Illustrated staffers on Friday via social media.

Some employees will be "terminated immediately" and paid due to the lack of notice, according to the screenshot.

It has been less than 10 years since Sports Illustrated broke the news that NBA superstar LeBron James was returning to his hometown of Cleveland after a stint with the Miami Heat. The bombshell wasn't far removed from the outlet's apex, which saw each cover represent true stardom for featured athletes.

But the changing media landscape has presented difficulties for the magazine. Most recently, Sports Illustrated garnered headlines in November after reportedly publishing AI-generated stories written by fake authors with fake profile photos and descriptions.

Arena fired CEO Ross Levinsohn following those reports. He was replaced by Manoj Bhargava, who stepped down earlier this month. Jason Frankl of FTI Consulting was reportedly named Arena’s chief business transformation officer when Bhargava resigned. He will be responsible for leading the magazine to a sustainable future — if it has one at all.