Updated Jan 19, 2024 - Business

Sports Illustrated's future is at risk, as is that of its publisher

Wilt Chamberlin on a Sports I;lustrated cover

Photo: Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

Sports Illustrated editorial staffers were warned on Friday that layoffs were coming that could affect the entire staff, according to multiple memos reviewed by Axios, after their publisher missed a $3.75 million licensing payment for the Sports Illustrated name.

Why it matters: This could be the end of one of America's most iconic media brands, which was founded 70 years ago.

Behind the scenes: Arena Group is a publicly traded company that licenses out the Sports Illustrated brand from another company called Authentic Brands Group.

  • Arena, which also publishes titles like Parade and Men's Journal, last August agreed to sell a majority stake in itself to entrepreneur Manoj Bhargava's Simplify Inventions.
  • But that deal didn't close as expected at year-end, and missing the licensing payment could put those prospects in further peril.
  • Arena Group's market cap now is just $26 million.
  • Neither Arena Group nor Authentic has publicly commented yet.

What they're saying: In a statement, Bridge Media, the subsidiary of the group that is planned to merge with Arena, said:

  • "We are in active negotiations with Authentic Brands Group (ABG) – and we aren't the only ones."
  • "They have been approached by others as well. Based on this interest, we expect that the great institution of Sports Illustrated will continue, survive and grow. We don't want to see it collapse and will continue our negations with ABG."

The bottom line: The future of Sports Illustrated now may be up to Authentic, which could theoretically find another publisher that's able to pay its bills on time.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

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