Sports Illustrated hit with mass layoffs

Turmoil is continuing for iconic US sports magazine Sports Illustrated as the title on October 3 laid off about half of its editorial staff.

Days after the departure of longtime editor-in-chief Chris Stone, dozens of SI staffers were informed they would no longer be part of the operation as digital publishing firm The Maven takes over operational control of the venerable title.

The layoffs come following a complex pair of deals involving the 65-year-old SI. Authentic Brands group this past spring paid $110m (€101m) to Meredith to acquire SI, but then signed another deal to license out out SI’s media operations to The Maven. That company has prepaid $45m to Authentic Brands against future royalties under a 10-year licensing agreement, with guaranteed yearly minimum royalty payments in the future. The Maven on October 3 completed the final stages of its deal.

A majority of SI’s newsroom formally petitioned Authentic Brands to not complete the deal with The Maven, arguing that company would “replace top journalists in the industry with a network of Maven freelancers and bloggers, while reducing or eliminating departments that ensured that the stories we publish and produce meet the highest standards. These plans significantly undermine our journalistic integrity, damage the reputation of this long-standing brand and negatively affect the economic stability of this publication.” 

But that plea was not successful.

“Today is unfortunately my last day as an SI employee, as part of today’s layoffs,” tweeted NBA reporter and producer Jake Fischer, one of many staffers to tweet out their new job status following staff meetings detailing the mass layoffs. “It’s been a devastating day in the office, but I’m looking forward to whatever’s next.”

Maven said it is significantly retooling SI’s operations and that its “vital improvements will enhance real-time news cycle coverage, strengthen mobile platform delivery, and increase the development of complementary video content”.

SI, for decades a fixture of American sports media, for the last several years has been facing declining relevance and circulation. And last year, the publication after operating for much of its history as a weekly was reduced to bi-weekly publication.