Sports Illustrated Staffers Hit With Massive Layoffs

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Once upon a time, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, along with some semblance of sanity, I read Sports Illustrated. I was not a subscriber, but I did occasionally grab a copy off the newsstand and try to catch up on the latest news or read an issue in the doctor’s or dentist’s offices. 

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And like many a young, single male, I will cop to at least leafing through the swimsuit edition when it came out. Although, once upon a time, prior to getting married, Danica Patrick was my celebrity crush, and yes, I waited for her issue to hit the stands. Don’t judge me. I was young and still liberal. And this is back when that issue highlighted women. 

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Since the radio station for which I worked was a Jazz affiliate, and at the time, the team was pretty generous with press passes, I devoted a lot of my spare time to the NBA. It also helped that this was during the Stockton-Malone-Hornacek era. When I was single, March Madness was something I waited for all year long and glued my eyeballs to the television to catch as many games as possible. I still get a tear in my eye when I hear Herb Albert’s “Come on and Watch Some Basketball.” A running joke between Mrs. Brown and me is that I haven’t seen a single NCAA Tournament game since we have been married. 

But I got married and left the swimsuit issues behind. Sports coverage became woke across the board, players and owners began increasingly morphing into entitled children, and I just got bored with it all. If I hadn’t already abandoned interest in sports, I certainly would have when Taylor Swift, leering like a Batman supervillain, started appearing in almost every bit of NFL coverage.

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As the now time-worn and practically flea-bitten adage goes, “Go woke, go broke.” I know this is true because the Bud Light section at my grocery store has the same number of cases of beer that it did in July. I also know this because Sports Illustrated, already in arrears and taking on water, announced massive layoffs today.

As originally reported by Front Office Sports, the move came on the heels of a decision by the licensing group Authentic to terminate its agreement with the Arena Group for the digital and print editions of the publication. Authentic purchased the magazine from Meredith for $110 million five years ago, and Arena recently missed a payment of $3.75 million to Authentic, a violation of the licensing agreement. 

The missed payment was just the latest development. According to the report, Arena had undergone multiple leadership changes, chased away some of its best talent, and already enacted multiple layoffs, which also invoked Authentic’s ire.

Front Office Sports said the staffers were notified that they were being pink-slipped via email:

… 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…Some employees will be terminated immediately, and paid in lieu of the applicable notice period under the [the union contract]. 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.

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Members of the SI Guild were given 90 days, while non-guild members were terminated immediately. 

The New York Post and other outlets were reporting that the magazine’s entire staff had been terminated, but in Front Office Sports’ report, as of midday, many employees were unsure of just how drastic the layoffs would be but expected them to “go deep.”   

The Sports Illustrated Union posted the following on X:

The layoffs may be due, at least in part, to the fact that people are just not buying magazines anymore. While SI does have a digital version, many people have been drawn toward X, TikTok, and YouTube shorts, and many Americans may lack the attention span to read an article. 

On the other hand, this is the same magazine that was recently busted for trying to sneak badly constructed AI-generated reviews past the readers. You may recall that this was the same algorithm that reportedly once suggested that a key part of playing volleyball was to first procure a volleyball. That’s some hard-hitting, in-depth sports writing right there. 

Front Office Sports noted that not long after that debacle, Manoj Bhargava, the head of Arena, held a town hall meeting with SI employees where he said, “No one is important. I am not important… The amount of useless stuff you guys do is staggering.” There’s some inspired team-building for you. Front Office Sports also reported:

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In addition to Friday’s SI layoffs, Arena fired more than 100 employees on Thursday throughout its organization. But Bhargava, who was tapped as Arena’s interim CEO on Dec. 11, didn’t make those cost-cutting moves. That’s because Bhargava stepped down from that position on Jan. 5 “to avoid any conflicts of interest,” according to an SEC filing. That conflict: Bridge Media Networks, a company completely owned by Bhargava, is in negotiations to make “a substantial investment” in Arena, according to the Arena news release that announced the Thursday cuts. The layoffs were carried out instead by Arena execs, its board of directors, and Jason Frankl, of FTI Consulting, who was appointed as Arena’s chief business transformation officer the same day Bhargava resigned, according to SEC filings.

Of course, people are forgetting one other important factor. As I mentioned above, sports coverage has become increasingly woke and lame. There will always be the die-hard fans, but I suspect that many people who used to love sports are tired of being preached and pandered to. And they have decided they have better uses for their time and money.

Of course, there is the rather glaring fact that SI started replacing its swimsuit models with men. But that’s another story for another time, although the magazine probably didn’t do itself any favors.

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If this is the end, farewell, SI. We’ll barely miss ye.

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