Minute Media CEO Asaf Peled has long been high on sports content in his company’s portfolio. Pic via YouTube.

Who exactly is the Sports Illustrated savior, Minute Media, if the London-based company can be called that? Minute Media acquired the license to publish the financially ailing but legendary sports media brand for at least the next decade, but has not disclosed how many, if any, of the publication’s staff will be retained (indications are that at least some will stay). 

On its LinkedIn page, Minute Media describes itself as a software developer, not a media company, that is “Powering passionate storytelling through technology.” It is known for low-budget outlets like FanSided, The Players Tribune, and 90min, a soccer site. A current posting for an editor at 90min in New York lists the salary at between $40,000 and $50,000, a low sum even for the poorly paid journalism world.

Those outlets draw traffic though; Minute Media ranks among the top 10 entities in U.S. digital sports media as measured monthly by Comscore, according to Front Office Sports. That traffic is driven by attractions like fan blogs on FanSided, athletes’ essays and videos on The Players Tribune, and fan-driven content on 90min.

“While working for Minute Media, I got a sense of how they view journalism’s value,” tweeted Nonito Dunnaire under the handle @RealFakeSamDunn. “That may or may not be reconcilable w/SI Union’s hard-fought salary/benefits guarantees It’s certainly possible! But MM also lists full-time sports writer jobs for as little as $40K per year.”

A different take came from current SI reporter Matt Verderame, who tweeted, “This is a beautiful thing. Minute Media coming in like the white knight for SI. I can’t express how thrilled I am to see @MinuteMediaLTD getting the @SInow license. I spent years at Minute Media when at @FanSided, and couldn’t have been treated better. They’re fantastic people.”

Minute Media was started in 2011 in Israel by founder Asaf Peled as a publishing platform focused on monetizing digital short-form content. A January financing round valued Minute Media at over $1 billion with its main business distributing tech to other publishers. Its approach prizes mobile, video, and short-form articles. Peled has always been high on expanding the company’s sports portfolio, telling Yahoo Finance in 2021, “One main thing and strategic objective for the business was to really dominate in global sports. We feel that sports is the, probably most compelling digital content category out there… we feel that to continue to expand our sports offering is one of the key priorities.”

SI, a legacy media brand known for its long-form stories and investigations, seems like a square peg in a round hole. In a press release statement, Peled said, “Sports Illustrated is the gold standard for sports journalism and has been for nearly 70 years across both print and digital media. The weight and power of that distinction cannot be understated. At Minute Media, our focus will be to take that legacy into new, emerging channels enhancing visibility, commercial viability, and sustainable impact, all while ensuring that the SI team is inspired to flourish in this new era of media.” 

What that means is just conjecture at this point. He didn’t commit to protecting SI’s hallowed long-form reporting from turning into the easily digestible video, audio, and written word that is the bread and butter of Minute Media content that is seen on the quirky but popular news site Mental Floss.

On Reddit, commenter GhostofEdgarAllanPoe wrote, “Minute comes across like an Alden or Apollo more than a benevolent overlord. SI is going to get milked and it will still fold in less than 10 years.” 

That seems a tad harsh, and comparing anyone to Alden in journalism is a major insult as that fund has bought up newspapers, stripped them bare, and then left them for dead.  Minute Media is not a fund, though it has substantial private equity and venture investors who will want to see profits and an exit strategy. 

Peled told Axios in January Minute Media is profitable, which should assuage the staff at SI.

The magazine is owned by Authentic Brands Group, which licenses out brands from star athletes like Shaquille O’Neal to names such as Brooks Brothers and Eddie Bauer. ABG had licensed SI to the Arena Group, but that entity missed a payment and then sent layoff notices to the entire SI staff earlier this year. Without a new licensee, the magazine would fold.

For years, Time Inc. owned SI, which was a cash cow in the golden era of sports print media. SI moved over to Meredith with that company’s 2017 Time acquisition. But the digital revolution decimated SI, known for its wordsmiths, and Meredith Corp. in 2019 sold the sports publication to ABG. At each step of the way the new owners committed to taking SI into the new era of media, and each time that commitment faltered.

Whether Peled and Minute Media are different will have to wait and see.  But for now, at least, they appear to have at a minimum kept SI above ground. 

“We have said from the start that our top priorities are to keep Sports Illustrated alive, uphold the legacy of the institution, and protect our union jobs,” Emma Baccellieri, an SI writer and vice chair of the SI Union said in a statement. “We look forward to discussing a future with Minute Media.”

About Daniel Kaplan

Daniel Kaplan has been covering the business of sports for more than two decades. A proud founding reporter of SportsBusiness Journal, he spent the last four years at The Athletic.