Sports Illustrated Arena Group The University of Alabama showed off renovations to Bryant Denny Stadium Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. Sports Illustrated covers decorate the walls inside the new press box. [Gary Cosby Jr./Tuscaloosa News, via USA Today Sports.]

On Thursday, the Authentic Brands Group revoked Arena Group’s license to operate the Sports Illustrated brand. On Friday, Arena announced a massive round of layoffs to the SI brand.

First, here’s the letter staffers from SI received, announcing the layoffs.

Here’s the text of that email.

“On Thursday, January 18th, we were notified by Authentic Brands Group (ABG) that the license under which the Arena Grup 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 ay 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.”

In response, the SI Union and The NewsGuild of New York issued a statement of their own about the layoffs, saying it would “expect The Arena Group to honor all the terms of our union contract.”

Earlier today the workers of Sports Illustrated were notified that The Arena Group is planning to lay off a significant number, possibly all, of the Guild-represented workers at SI, a result of Authentic Brands Group (ABG) revoking Arena’s license to publish SI.

This is another difficult day in what has been a difficult four years for Sports Illustrated under Arena Group (previously The Maven) stewardship. We are calling on ABG to ensure the continued publication of SI and allow it to serve our audience in the way it has for nearly 70 years.

We expect The Arena Group to honor all the terms of our union contract and will fight for every one of our colleagues to be treated fairly.

“We have fought together as a union to maintain the standard of this storied publication that we love, and to make sure our workers are treated fairly for the value they bring to this company. It is a fight we will continue.” – Mitch Goldich, NFL editor and unit chair.

Back in 2019, ABG bought SI from Meredith for $110 million. The media operations were then licensed to Arena (then known as Maven), which included a prepayment of $45 million. Almost immediately, issues regarding Arena’s financial stability began to pop up, leading to a round of layoffs in March 2020. ABG asked for those cuts to be reversed, and Meredith sued Arena for unpaid fees (which was eventually resolved). Layoffs continued throughout the pandemic, and Ross Levinsohn replaced Jim Heckman as CEO in August 2020.

After a couple of years of relative stability, things began to unravel in late 2023. A majority stake in the Arena Group was reported to be sold to Manoj Bhargava and his Simplify Inventions company in August 2023. Levinsohn was removed as CEO in December 2023 after an AI scandal caused an uproar among staffers. Just yesterday, Arena announced layoffs of over 100 people, though the SI brand was reportedly not impacted.

Two weeks ago, ABG threatened to terminate its agreement with Arena due to a missed quarterly payment. Arena claimed to be “in discussion” with ABG about resolving the issue. Earlier this month, the New York Post reported that Heckman and crypto investor Brock Pierce were attempting to take over SI through a purchase of Arena. Front Office Sports reports that “Authentic’s contact with potential replacement operators predates Arena’s recent missed payment.”

As for the future of Sports Illustrated, an ABG representative told AA’s Andrew Bucholtz they’re “determined to protect and provide stewardship for the brand, and that includes making sure the editorial arm continues to operate while partners are discussed and negotiations happen.”

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.