Massive layoffs at Sports Illustrated cast doubt on the future of the famous magazine

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First published in 1954, Sports Illustrated could be characterized as part of sports history.

But the magazine’s announcement of mass layoffs on Friday has employees and observers worried about its future.

The reductions planned for Sports Illustrated possibly include all of its workers represented by the union, the union said in a post on social media Friday.

In an email sent to employees Friday morning, the Arena group, which operates Sports Illustrated and Associated Properties, said its parent company, Authentic Brands Group (ABG), had revoked the marketing license that allowed it to publish the magazine.

“As a result of this license revocation, we will be laying off staff working on the SI brand,” the email said.

Arena Group said in a filing earlier this month that it had failed to make a US$3.75 million payment to ABG, effectively terminating its licensing agreement.

Groundbreaking publication

Innovative for its color photography covering major sporting events of the week and for nationalizing conversations around several major sports leagues, Sports Illustrated has been called the “gold standard” by some sports journalists. The award-winning magazine helped launch the careers of great sports writers like Gary Smith And Frank Deford.

WATCH | THE Sports Illustrated changes observed over the years:

Sports Illustrated lays off most of its employees

The owner of Sports Illustrated handed out layoff notices Friday to most of his staff after nearly 70 years in business. Although this does not necessarily mean the end, the future of the magazine is uncertain.

Michael Farber was senior editor of the magazine from 1994 until 2014, when he retired. He continued to work as a special associate, a role he says he still has, to his knowledge.

“It’s like people who went to Harvard are always proud that they went to Harvard,” Farber said. “If you’ve worked for Sports Illustrated for any reasonable length of time, you’re proud of your alma mater.”

He describes the planned layoffs as “death by 1,000 cuts.”

In a statement on Friday, ABG said that “Sports Illustrated continue to.”

“Authentic is here to ensure that the brand of Sports Illustratedwhich includes its editorial arm, continues to thrive as it has for nearly 70 years,” the statement said. “We are confident that in the future, the brand will continue to evolve and grow in a manner which serves sports news readers, sports fans and consumers.

Property struggles and controversies

Sports Illustrated has struggled in recent years.

After being acquired by Meredith Publishing in 2018, the magazine laid off much of its staff the following year when Meredith sold the magazine’s intellectual property to ABG for US$110 million.

Initially weekly, the magazine was reduced to a biweekly publication in 2018, then monthly in 2020.

“I think Sports Illustrated “The mistakes we made didn’t allow us to adapt quickly enough to the digital age,” Farber said.

A screenshot of a website.
Author biography and photo of a fictional Sports Illustrated writer named Drew Ortiz, generated by artificial intelligence. In November, it was discovered that Sports Illustrated was using AI to write articles. (CBC)

Yesterday’s announcement comes just months after a controversy within the publication involving artificial intelligence.

In November, Sports Illustrated was caught posting, then deleting, articles with fake author names and artificial intelligence-generated profile photos. Following the controversy, Arena Group fired its CEO Ross Levinsohn the following month.

The future is unclear

The potential layoffs would be the latest among many across the media landscape. The news comes just a day later Los Angeles Times’ The union said the newspaper was considering laying off a “significant” number of journalists. In Canada last summer, BCE Inc. announced that it elimination of 1,300 positions – about three percent of its workforce – and closed or sold several radio stations.

In a statement to CBC News, Arena Group said the company is in active discussions with ABG.

“Even though the publication license has been revoked, we will continue to produce Sports Illustrated until this issue is resolved,” the statement said. “We hope to be the company that moves SI forward, but if not, we are confident that someone will. If it is another company, we will support the transition so that the legacy of Sports Illustrated Don’t suffer.”

While Farber calls the layoffs “bleak,” he says he, too, still has hope.

“I hope that if there are people willing to tell stories … you might have to look a little harder to find them. But it still exists,” he said. “And now it’s up to readers to find it, and up to writers to produce it.”



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