Jessica Smetana on Sports Illustrated Credit: The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz

Beyond the loss of a historic brand and a staff of reporters dedicated to informing sports fans, former Sports Illustrated staffer Jessica Smetana believes the revocation of Arena Group’s license to run SI last week also infringed on the power of the staff’s union.

Speaking on Monday’s episode of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, Smetana explained why she and other journalists at SI formed the union in 2019 and why Authentic Brands Group would want to curtail its power.

“Management is very threatened by the Sports Illustrated union, and threatened by what happens when a lot of employees can come together and say, ‘We are not being treated with respect, we are not being paid the wages that we deserve, we are being told to do work that we’re not comfortable with that has corporate influence,'” Smetana said. “And I think that getting rid of the union is actually a pretty calculated move.”

SI‘s future (along with that of most of its staff) is up in the air. But with so much tumult at the company, it is an easy opportunity for ABG to remove those in the union who might push back or enforce the collectively bargained rules governing the workplace.

“I don’t know if Sports Illustrated will continue in some form with contract workers after the three months is up, I don’t know if there will continue to be a magazine written by people that weren’t part of the union,” Smetana said. “I’m not exactly sure how this will shake out.”

Smetana revealed the SI union negotiated recall rights mandating that if a unionized staffer’s position is back-filled after layoffs within three months, that staffer has rights to be rehired.

So while there are protections for the reporters, editors and business operations people working at SI, there’s still not much optimism for the future. After all, ABG primarily bought the magazine in order to license its brand for products and events.

“This really comes down to a power struggle between these two groups of people and how they can continue to make money off of Sports Illustrated without actually giving any sort of a f*** about quality work and quality journalism and the things that made Sports Illustrated a valuable brand in the first place,” Smetana said.

If SI and its dedicated staff is to be saved, someone will need to bid for the license that actually cares about journalism and creating a profitable business around it.

“While I blame management over the past decade-plus for … fumbling what was an iconic company and not being able to modernize it and make it profitable in a away that kept people’s jobs safe,” Smetana concluded, “I do believe the current owners and operators of Sports Illustrated deserve a ton of blame and honestly should be ashamed of themselves.”

The SI staff and its readers across the sports world will know the magazine’s fate by the spring. But it’s hard to have hope given its recent history.

[The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on YouTube]

About Brendon Kleen

Brendon is a Media Commentary staff writer at Awful Announcing. He has also covered basketball and sports business at Front Office Sports, SB Nation, Uproxx and more.