One of the subplots in the current downfall of Sports Illustrated is that Authentic Brands Group, which owns SI after purchasing it from the Meredith Corporation and licensed rights to TheMaven for publishing content, could decide to revoke the publishing rights licensed to TheMaven if the company felt the brand was being damaged.
This contingency came up recently following the firing of longtime SI writer Grant Wahl, who spoke out against the layoffs and salary cuts TheMaven enacted once the sports industry shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Washington Post‘s sports media columnist Ben Strauss wrote about the lack of confidence among SI staffers in TheMaven leadership and noted the possibility that ABG could decide to revoke its publishing license.
Now, ABG executives are publicly stating that the company hasn’t agreed with some of TheMaven’s decisions and has asked the publisher to “reverse” those actions.TheWrap’s Brian Welk spoke with ABG CEO Jamie Salter, who expressed disappointment over TheMaven cutting nine percent of its staff (including six percent of Sports Illustrated’s staff).
“Some of the things that they have done are no different than any other big corporation or small corporation that has done as far as pay cuts and furloughs and reduction of head count,” Salter said. “I can honestly say some of it we haven’t agreed with as the holder of the license, and we sort of expressed our opinion to TheMaven folks and told them that they need to sort of reverse some of their actions of what they had done because we don’t necessarily agree.”
Salter’s language isn’t as forceful as it could be with qualifiers like “some of it,” “sort of,” and “don’t necessarily agree,” but perhaps that’s intended to convey — at least publicly — that these were suggestions rather than mandates. The apparent preference is to give TheMaven an opportunity to course-correct before ABG reneges on its agreement.
In a report filed to the Securities and Exchange Commission in early April, TheMaven projected a $30 million loss in revenue for 2020 and intended to reduce staff and cut non-payroll expenses to save $19 million. Additionally, the publisher borrowed $12 million as “a financial buffer.”
As might be expected, SI CEO Ross Levinsohn touted the digital growth that TheMaven has overseen since taking over the publication in a statement to TheWrap. But Salter is apparently willing to accept TheMaven’s justifying its budget cuts for only so long.
You can read more from Salter, including his views on ABG’s finances and how that affects the SI brand, at TheWrap.