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Media Meltdowns

Vox Media Layoffs Wipe Out Most SB Nation Hockey, MLS Sites

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Image via SB Nation

On Friday morning, Vox Media, which owns SB Nation, The Verge, Eater, Polygon, and New York Magazine, along with Group Nine brands like The Dodo, PopSugar, and Thrillist, announced it would be laying off seven percent of its workers, about 130 employees.

The dust has yet to settle on this round of layoffs, but it's already clear that the layoffs have hit SB Nation and its affiliated team sites hard. An unknown number of employees at SB Nation's flagship site were laid off (not that there were many left after Vox Media layoffs gutted SB Nation in 2020). Additionally, multiple sources told Defector that all but six of the SB Nation hockey websites will no longer be supported by Vox Media, and that most, if not all, of the MLS team sites will also be cut. Sources say that Vox Media has axed nearly all SB Nation podcasts as well. (Update: Vox Media spokeswoman Lauren Starke sent Defector an email saying: "Though we have some contracts ending on February 28, there are still MLS sites and podcasts that will continue to be supported by SB Nation beyond that date." She did not say how many and did not respond to a question about how many SB Nation workers were laid off.)

The workers who run the SB Nation team sites are mostly independent contractors, meaning they make only small stipends for what can amount to a full-time job. Many of them have been doing the work of building fan communities for years for little or no money.

Steph Driver was the only full-time SB Nation hockey staffer before she was laid off today. Driver oversaw all of SB Nation's 34 hockey team sites, one for each NHL team, as well as one site each for women's hockey and college hockey. Driver said she and the other team-site workers have pieced together through self-reporting that there are six hockey sites left, the managers of whom feel conflicted about continuing their work when so many of their coworkers have been terminated.

"We feel like we've been punched in the gut today," Driver told Defector.

The team-site layoffs are especially hard for workers to stomach given how little money they cost Vox Media. The cost of the hockey sites combined was pennies compared to the company's billion-dollar valuation.

"The smaller sites were making between $200 and $500 a month to spread between the site manager and some of the contributors, and on the higher end of the scale, our big sites would have anywhere between $2,500 and $4,000 to spend on contributors," Driver said.

"What we were able to do with little support and resources and just grit and really our passion for hockey is incredible," Driver said, adding that while she has some contingency plans, she is going to take the weekend to reset before thinking about next steps. Other SB Nation workers are similarly trying to sort out what comes next for the communities they built.

A post on Japers' Rink, SB Nation's Washington Capital's team site, said:

So far all we’ve been told is that the site will no longer be managed or financially supported by Vox Media, and that our contract agreements with the company expire at the end of February.

More information is coming as to the future of this site and all the others impacted by this news, and we are currently exploring our options as we await further updates. Nothing is finalized and we have no immediate plans to shutter Japers’ Rink altogether. Right now, our priority is in continuing to provide coverage of the team and sport we love, and continuing to maintain the great community we have built here over the years.

A post on Blueshirt Banter, SB Nation's New York Rangers team site, said SB Nation's team site director, John Ness, has left the sites in the dark about what comes next.

I don’t have a ton of information right now, beyond the blanket e-mail John Ness sent to dozens of site managers across multiple leagues, but it appears Blueshirt Banter will no longer be monetized by SB Nation starting in March.

I am not sure what that means for the future of this amazing website and community, but it’s likely not good.

I probably will have a hell of a lot more to say in the coming days as more information is released (John Ness has yet to respond to my e-mail asking for clarification on the current situation) but for right now wanted to thank you all for the love, support, and consumption of this website and the people that made it hum for well over a decade and made this one of the top websites in the SBN Hockey Family by almost every metric.

It's a sad coda for the network of sports websites and the exploited workers who ran them. As I reported in 2017, SB Nation, which went on to launch Vox Media, was built on getting people to fill up hundreds of websites, against which investment money was raised and ads were sold, for little or no pay. This exploitative business model was eventually the basis for multiple federal collective action lawsuit that were settled in 2020 for millions of dollars.

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