Credit: Fan Nation

While there are still questions about what’s ahead for Sports Illustrated, the picture is getting clearer.

The Authentic Brands Group-owned publication appears to be on a firmer footing following this week’s publishing transition from The Arena Group to Minute Media. Minute has indicated they’ll keep the print edition going, retain and/or bring back “the vast majority” of staffers (including even some previously terminated immediately by Arena), and even picked up the somewhat segmented-off Swimsuit Issue and SI Kids.

At least part of a notable remaining question has now been answered. That comes from a Front Office Sports report by AJ Perez Sunday. Perez writes (as part of a larger piece on the state of SI) that the SI FanNation brand of team sites will continue under Minute. He notes that several of those sites were very profitable, that many of the same executives will remain involved, and that they plan to try and bring over many of those writers as well. (But there is competition there from Arena, which is also making many of those writers offers.)

Here’s more from that piece:

Minute Media now has the rights to SI FanNation, which Time Inc. acquired in 2007. Under Arena, FanNation grew to about 160 sites that cover individual college and pro teams, along with some sport-focused sites—it might not be what you think of when you think of SI, but it has been a major driver of revenue for Arena in recent years. Some team-dedicated sites have brought in as much as $1 million annually, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the finances. 

…Perhaps Maven was on to something with its content mill plans, it turns out. The top three FanNation bosses, including FanNation senior VP Mark Pattison, left Arena last week to assume the same positions at Minute Media. The process of onboarding the roughly 300 FanNation contractors is ongoing, and Arena is clearly making every attempt to keep FanNation at Arena.

While it’s not yet clear how many of those contractors will stay with FanNation under Minute, the exec moves are certain. Pattinson posted about his move on LinkedIn on Saturday:

But, as mentioned above, there are reportedly other offers for at least some of those team site contractors. Perez previously noted that both Arena and a new company started by former Maven CEO Jim Heckman (who exited in August 2020) have made overtures to the FanNation contractors:

We’ll see just how many of the FanNation contractors stick with the brand and their existing sites around this transition. It’s certainly notable that Minute is keeping the brand, those sites, and several of the top executives.

There could be more changes, as Perez notes. FanSided and FanNation both have team sites for a lot of teams, “which could lead to staffing numbers being reduced when the integration process is complete” if they decide to integrate the two team site brands or just prune some sites where the other team site brand is more popular. But the main known thing here right now is that the FanNation brand and most sites look set to continue under Minute, at least for now.

The FanNation brand has quite a long history with SI in several different incarnations. It wound up under that umbrella thanks to Time Inc. (two SI owners ago) buying it in 2007, back when it was a combination website and social networking platform. In 2014, Time Inc. used “FanNation” as the name for a free daily fantasy app; shortly afterward, 2015 saw them pick up FanSided, known for its network of team sites.

FanSided continued with SI after Time Inc. sold all of SI to Meredith in 2017, but was not included in the 2019 SI sale to Authentic (which led to Authentic’s subsequent publishing licensing deal with Arena, then called Maven). It was sold to Minute in January 2020. Meanwhile, Maven first tried a team site approach where writers were just called “Mavens” (with some controversies), then expanded through partnerships like a January 2020 one with The Hockey News.

The rebrand to FanNation for the team sites came in October 2020, and it came around some leadership changes and some controversy over a shift from publisher guarantees to a full revenue-sharing model. That also came after a notable summer of layoffs at the team sites and after several controversies, from background checks to burner accounts to telling laid-off publishers to take down tweets. However, FanNation has seemingly gone along reasonably well since then; there have been some controversies still, but they’ve been less frequent.

Again, it’s not yet clear just what FanNation will look like under Minute. But their overall SI plan looks to be proceeding under the guise of  “business as usual,” at least for the moment. We’ll see how many of the FanNation people they wind up with around these competing offers, and what their version of FanNation winds up looking like, but, notably, Minute plans to carry on with FanNation are now out there.

[Front Office Sports]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.