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. Syndication: Tuscaloosa News, Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr. Bryant Denny Stadium Renovations

The drama never ends around Sports Illustrated and who gets to run the legacy brand.

On Friday, Arena Group Holdings, the media company that publishes Sports Illustrated, announced that interim CEO Manoj Bhargava had resigned. Per Deadline, Bhargava, the owner of 5-Hour Energy, reportedly stepped down “to avoid any conflicts of interest which may arise as part of the pending transactions.”

Meanwhile, in a regulatory filing on Friday, Arena said it was working with business advisory firm FTI Consulting to help them turn around financially and “forge an expedited path to sustainable positive cash flow and earnings to create shareholder value.”

The move comes just weeks after the board fired previous CEO Ross Levinsohn.

That may be too little too late for Authentic Brands Group, which licenses the Sports Illustrated brand to Arena. Per Deadline, they made a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday, saying that Arena missed their quarterly payment of around $3.75 million. They also “issued [Arena] a notice of breach with the intent to exercise its right of termination.”

Arena said in their filing that they are “in discussion” with Authentic about the situation.

“As the second largest brand owner and licensor in the world, a key to Authentic’s success has been and will continue to be the support of our nearly 2,000 best-in-class partners around the world,” said Authentic Brands Group in a statement. “When they win; we win. In exchange for this trust and support, we simply expect our partners to honor their contractual commitments – financial or otherwise. These arrangements help ensure that the brands they are licensing from us continue to grow and prosper.

“While we ordinarily don’t comment on the specific details of our relationships with our licensees, these aforementioned expectations unequivocally apply to The Arena Group, the current license holder of the Sports Illustrated brand whereby under such license they operate a traditional ad-supported sports media business. Following a failure to make their quarterly license fee payment on January 1, we have put The Arena Group in breach with an intention to terminate the license absent a cure.”

Aside from the aforementioned missed payment, Arena also said they had missed an interest payment of almost $2.8 million to Renew Group Private Limited. They said they are also in discussions with Renew about restructuring or amending the deal, which has an outstanding principal of $110.7 million.

It’s been a tumultuous time for SI already. The brand took a ton of heat in November after Futurism reported that it had published multiple AI-generated articles under fake bylines. Arena COO Andrew Kraft, president of media Rob Barrett, and corporate counsel Julie Fenster left the company in early December amid the fallout. Bhargava (who bought a majority stake in Arena in August) then lambasted SI employees on a conference call, telling them to “stop doing dumb stuff.” Shortly after that, Levinsohn was terminated, and Bhargava took over as interim CEO.

Meanwhile, the NY Post reported earlier this week that former Arena CEO James Heckman, backed by crypto mogul Brock Pierce, is attempting to seize control of Sports Illustrated via stock ownership.

Authentic Brands Group acquired the Sports Illustrated brand in 2018 and licensed editorial operations to Arena Group in 2019 as part of a 10-year arrangement.

[Deadline, MarketWatch]

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.