Sports Illustrated to cut staff as new owner takes over

The owner of Sports Illustrated, the iconic sports magazine that has suffered a steep decline in recent years along with the broader magazine industry, announced Thursday that it would be laying off a portion of its staff.

The company declined to detail how many employees were dismissed, but The Wall Street Journal reported that 40 people at the magazine had lost their jobs.

The layoffs caused a wave of response from employees, with many laid-off staffers tweeting news of their departures.

“Today was my last at Sports Illustrated as NBA editor,” tweeted DeAntae Prince.

“After six years at @SInow, it’s over,” tweeted Joan Niesen, a staff writer who covered college football.

The Sports Illustrated staffers are the latest victims of the downsizing affecting digital and print media, which has struggled to retain advertising revenue as marketers have shifted their spending to tech platforms.

Sports Illustrated was one of the flagship titles of Time Inc., which was acquired by the women-focused magazine company Meredith Corporation in 2018. The 65-year-old magazine was famed for covers featuring boxer Muhammad Ali and soccer player Brandi Chastain and writers such as Frank Deford and Dan Jenkins.

In June, Meredith struck a deal with a New York-based brand management company, Authentic Brands Group, which at first opted to use Meredith to continue to run the media side of the operation.

It later abruptly switched to work with a private management firm, theMaven, run by former Yahoo executive Ross Levinsohn.

“Today, Authentic Brands Group officially closed on its transfer of the license to run the media assets of Sports Illustrated from Meredith to The Maven Group,” the company said in a news release. “As the new licensor of the Sports Illustrated, Maven made the Sports Illustrated personnel decisions that Meredith communicated to the SI employees today.

“Going forward, the remaining SI employees will work at the direction and at the pleasure of Maven,” the company continued. “Meredith will handle the payroll and benefits administration through the end of calendar 2019 as part of a transition services agreement with Maven.”

The Sports Illustrated United Twitter account, run by employees of Sports Illustrated, posted this message: “Imagine walking into a room, some individuals after 25+ years of service to a brand, and having a person who was not even the one who chose to terminate your position, telling you coldly your job is gone. After hours and hours of waiting.”

Staff were expected to attend transition meetings Thursday, but they were abruptly canceled after reports that the new owners planned to lay off half the staff.

The New York News Guild also voiced support for staff members who are calling on Meredith to rethink the deal and save the historic brand. “We call on Meredith and ABG to drop theMaven and save Sports Illustrated,” the Guild tweeted.

Staff members began sharing their memories on Twitter, including digital editor Mark McClusky, who said he had started his career there and returned three years ago before exiting the media outlet.

The Sports Illustrated layoffs come on the heels of cost-cutting at other outlets, including Vice Media, which just merged with Refinery29, and BuzzFeed, which shrank its news operation. Separately, New York Magazine sold itself to digital media group Vox earlier this week.

Even so, other outlets such as The Athletic have been growing. The online sports destination recently raised $22 million at a valuation of $100 million to fund international expansion.