A Sports Illustrated Media Group graphic. A Sports Illustrated Media Group graphic. (The Arena Group.)

The recent rounds of layoffs and cutbacks across many businesses have impacted the sports media scene as well, and the latest company to conduct major layoffs is Sports Illustrated. Several prominent SI writers and editors announced on Twitter Wednesday that they had been laid off:

Those are the layoffs we’ve seen so far. We’ll add more as we see them.

Update: Awful Announcing has obtained the memo to staff from SI publisher The Arena Group announcing these changes as part of a “restructuring.” That includes 17 people leaving today, plans to hire 12 new people, the retirement of co-editor in chief Ryan Hunt in March, and the split of editorial oversight into three groups. Here are some key parts of that:

Today is a day of change in our Sports business. We are restructuring our Sports Illustrated group to reflect how consumers engage with us, and how we address the needs of our partners and audience.

We are saying goodbye to 17 colleagues and have created 12 new openings to reflect the new needs of the SI business. Since October of 2019, when we partnered with Authentic Brands Group to take over operations of the print and digital web and mobile businesses, we have evolved SI by repositioning the print business as a monthly publication, with premium journalism and excellent storytelling, while also developing a robust digital presence across many platforms. The strategy has helped propel our sports vertical to rapid growth, adding more than 30 million users to our sports vertical since inception.

…The changes announced here will allow us to continue to respond and address those evolving audience needs. It is critical that we invest in the growth areas of our brands, while maintaining the expectations of our existing and long-time consumers. Going forward, we will have three distinct editorial units focusing on serving different parts of our audience. The magazine and long form editorial group will continue to be led by our Editor-in-Chief, Steve Cannella. Our digital coverage from SI, with a renewed focus on key sports verticals, will be led by Joy Russo, and our breaking and trending team will be led by Neal Coolong. All three will report to me going forward. We are looking to make key hires to support our editorial plans, including 9 new journalists and 3 new editorial managers.  

… In addition, after 25 years of service to the Sports Illustrated brand, our co-Editor-in-Chief Ryan Hunt will be retiring from the company this March. Ryan will be working on several strategic projects and other elements of the transition through then. Ryan’s passion and contributions to making SI what it is today cannot be overstated.

That memo is notable for spelling out the numbers of layoffs and the editorial shift splits. The plans to hire new people are interesting as well, and they mean that this isn’t as large of a headcount drop as many strict layoffs are. However, we’ve seen in the past elsewhere that “restructurings” with hires amidst layoffs can still be at least partly about cost savings, especially when many of those let go are long-tenured. It will be interesting to see who the new hires wind up being.

Our original post continues below:

This is one of many rounds of layoffs and cutbacks at Sports Illustrated (and its associated team channels, now called FanNation) over the past few years, which have led to major changes in the publication’s operations. Of course, they’re far from the only sports media company that’s conducted major layoffs, especially around the COVID-19 pandemic. But there is some notable additional ownership context with SI.

As repeatedly predicted in 2017, Meredith’s purchase of then-SI parent Time Inc. led to a sale process for SI in 2018, which concluded with a 2019 sale to Authentic Brands Group. ABG then struck a deal with the company then called TheMaven, which is now The Arena Group, under which that company runs SI’s print and digital media operations (the various SI-brand licensing deals remain under ABG).

Arena (which also owns plenty of other media properties, including The Street and The Spun) has come under fire for debt and for missed payments at times. And it’s had its own internal restructurings. As per an inventor presentation last December, Arena had almost $92 million in total debt at the end of last November (and an enterprise value of $383 million):

And debt can certainly be a problem for media companies, as we’re currently seeing with Diamond Sports Group‘s Bally Sports RSNs. Of course, those RSNs look to be headed for a bankruptcy restructuring, and there’s no reporting on anything that drastic happening with Arena yet. But it’s certainly worth looking at Arena’s overall financials around anything happening with SI, and at the market’s confidence in them. Their stock is currently trading at $8.83 per share, well below that $13.72 from last November and about half of their 52-week high of $16.50. We’ll see where they, and SI, go from here.

[SI Media Group image from The Arena Group]

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.