Iconic American magazine Sports Illustrated is in deep trouble

Stand the approximately one hundred journalists of the famous American magazine Sports Illustrated on the street soon? With an email, leaked to American media, the staff of Sports Illustrated formally resigned last Friday. Some can pack their things immediately, for some there is still a three-month notice period, as they were later told in Zoom conversations with the publisher The Arena Group.

If there is no solution to a financial dispute between the publisher on the one hand and rights holder Authentic Brand Group on the other, the end seems near for the ailing magazine. Although both the publisher and the rights owner say they are doing everything they can for the future of the title. In any form.

Sports Illustrated, which has been published weekly since 1954 but has now been a monthly magazine for several years, was influential for a long time. The magazine captured American sports culture like no other written medium. In the 1960s, the editorial staff led by André Laguerre sensed in time how American Football became the number one national sport in the country where baseball had always been considered “America’s national pastime”.

But authors and photographers sang about the love for all (American) sports. The cover ‘A Star is Born’ from 1984, featuring the (literally) rising basketball star Michael Jordan, is one of the most famous. The cover with cheering players at the so-called Miracle on Ice, the victory of the American ice hockey team over the Soviet Union in the Olympic final in 1980 in Lake Placid, also became a keeper’s issue.

Swimsuit edition

Internationally, the title is best known for the swimsuit edition, an annual publication featuring models, athletes and other famous women in swimwear. The first edition was published exactly sixty years ago, on January 20, 1964, and was devised by Laguerre to bridge the winter sports lull. Actress Tyra Banks became the first black woman in 1997. Last year the cover featured Martha Stewart, the 81-year-old cookbook writer who, as a successful businesswoman, was convicted of insider trading at the beginning of this century.

The crisis in which the title currently finds itself has been announced for some time. Last December it was announced that publisher The Arena Group had overdue payments of around 3.75 million dollars (3.44 million euros) on the licensing contract. Last week, rights holder Authentic withdrew the license, after which the editors were told to stand still. The parties will have to sit down again. Authentic has already stated that it is committed to maintaining “full integrity and the stature of the brand”.

That stature has recently deteriorated considerably. Until 2017 it was a weekly magazine Sports Illustratednow a monthly magazine, part of the Time Warner group together with two other famous magazines, Time and Fortune. Since the sale of those three titles it became according to website Deadline An ‘bumpy ride‘ for in particular Sports Illustrated. Last autumn it was announced that several articles on the sports magazine’s website had been generated with the help of AI. The fault is said to lie with a third party where the items were purchased.

The announcement from editors seems typical of the relationships since Indian entrepreneur Manoj Bhargava took over the Arena Group. In a meeting with staff, including editors of Sports Illustrated, he said last December, according to American media, that “no one is important, including me.” And that it is “shocking” “how many useless things you do.” By the way, he has currently stepped down temporarily.

Yet Bhargava is optimistic, judging by a statement from his spokesperson to the American newspaper The New York Times. Negotiations with rights holder Authentic are “ongoing” and there are also other candidates. “Based on that interest, we are convinced that the great institute Sports Illustrated will continue, survive, and grow.”