Sports Illustrated lays off ‘significant’ amount of staff after license revoked, owner vows to continue brand

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A significant number of Sports Illustrated staff members were notified by the outlet’s publisher that they would be laid off. The move puts the future of the iconic sports publication that has been widely considered the gold standard of sports journalism for nearly seven decades in jeopardy.

The Arena Group, which operates Sports Illustrated and related properties emailed employees on Friday, notifying them that Authentic Brands Group has revoked its marketing license.

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

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Sports Illustrated’s employee union said in a statement that the layoffs would be a significant number, and possibly all, of the NewsGuild workers represented.

“We have fought together as a union to maintain the standard of this storied publication that we love, and to make sure our workers are treated fairly for the value they bring to this company. It is a fight we will continue,” Mitch Goldich, NFL editor and unit chair, said in a statement.

The guild’s statement also called for 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.”

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The Arena Group acquired publishing rights from ABG in 2019 for at least 10 years. The group’s stewardship of SI has had many hurdles since then. In December, it fired chief executive officer Ross Levinsohn when the magazine’s alleged use of AI-generated stories drew public backlash.

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Pat Forde who covers college sports, the Olympics and horse racing for Sports Illustrated, according to his published bio, reacted to the news on social media and clarified that the “entire staff” did not receive termination notices.

“The entire staff was not laid off. There still is a website and a magazine. That said: Ugly, brutal day with many layoffs,” Forde wrote on X, the company formerly known as Twitter.

In a statement sent to Fox News Digital on Friday, Authentic Brands Group confirmed that Arena Group’s license was terminated.

“Yesterday, The Arena Group’s license to serve as the publisher of Sports Illustrated was terminated as a result of the company’s failure to pay its quarterly license fee despite being given a notice of breach and an opportunity to cure the breach,” the statement read.

Authentic Brands Group also said the Sports Illustrated brand will continue.

“Authentic is here to ensure that the brand of Sports Illustrated, which includes its editorial arm, continues to thrive as it has for the past nearly 70 years. We are confident that going forward the brand will continue to evolve and grow in a way that serves sports news readers, sports fans, and consumers. We are committed to ensuring that the traditional ad-supported Sports Illustrated media pillar has best in class stewardship to preserve the complete integrity of the brand’s legacy.”

The iconic sports brand has had a rough six years. It was acquired by Meredith Publishing in 2018 as part of the purchase of Time Inc., which started the magazine in 1954.

Less than a year later, Meredith sold the magazine’s intellectual property to Authentic Brands Group for $110 million. ABG owns the intellectual property of many brands and stars, including Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali and Reebok.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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