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Sports Illustrated As We Know It Appears To Be Dead

A box of Sports Illustrated supplements. White bottles of various sizes. The most visible bottle is Sports Illustrated Nutrition: Collagen + Enzymes
Dan McQuade/Defector

Earlier today, The Arena Group gave notice over email that it would be conducting layoffs at Sports Illustrated. A statement from the Sports Illustrated union revealed that "a significant number, possibly all" of the magazine's staff would be losing their jobs as the result of Authentic Brands Group's decision to revoke The Arena Group's license to the SI brand.

The confusing and absurd nature of those previous sentences—The Arena Group pays a licensing fee to Authentic Brands Group in order to continue publishing the most prestigious sports publication in history? What?—pretty well captures the grim nature of SI's recent history. That history, and the publication itself, now might be coming to a depressing end, all because one faceless corporation failed to make its payments to another faceless corporation. Earlier this month, The Arena Group revealed in an SEC filing that it had failed to make a quarterly $3.75 million payment to Authentic Brands Group, which was the cost of licensing the Sports Illustrated brand.

Richard Deitsch at The Athletic published the email that Sports Illustrated staffers received today:

Dear All:

On Thursday, January 18th, we were notified by Authentic Brands Group (ABG) that the license under which the Arena Group operates the Sports Illustrated (SI) brand and SI related properties has been officially revoked by ABG. As a result of this license revocation, we will be laying off staff that work on the SI brand.

All impacted employees will receive severance pay, and will be entitled to any applicable WARN or notice period outlined in the Union agreement ("MOA"). Some employees will be terminated immediately, and paid in lieu of the applicable notice period under the MOA. Employees with a last working day of today will be contacted by the People team soon. Other employees will be expected to work through the end of the notice period, and will receive additional information shortly.

We appreciate the work and efforts of everyone who has contributed to the SI brand and business.

This is one more awful development for both a magazine that once epitomized sports writing and for the broader, rapidly eroding sports media landscape it is a part of. The Arena Group originally acquired the Sports Illustrated license for a term of 10 years, and it has since gone about slapping Sports Illustrated's name on everything from sports books to shady supplements. Before The Arena Group lost the license, it found newer ways to dedicate its efforts towards Sports Illustrated's decline: Last November, Futurism reported that Sports Illustrated had published articles with bylines featuring AI-generated writers. The Arena Group stated that the articles themselves were licensed from a third-party company called AdVon Commerce.

The Sports Illustrated brand may yet live on, but it now seems like any form of survival will require yet another change in ownership. Even if another name gets added to the recent string of SI's increasingly uncanny stewards and associates—Meredith, Authentic Brands Group, TheMaven–turned–The Arena Group, Simplify Inventions, AdVon Commerce—it is unclear what a future magazine (or resort) will look like, or if it will include the workers who were laid off today.

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