Digital publisher Maven now manages Sports Illustrated for Authentic Brands Group (ABG), and one of its managers first moves was to cut staff by more than one-fourth last Thursday. The company cut more than 40 jobs out of a total staff of 150, reports The New York Times. To replace the sports coverage those staff members provided, Maven will work with 200 freelancers and bloggers instead.
The 65-year-old Sports Illustrated is now owned by ABG and managed by Maven, a well-capitalized digital publisher based in Seattle. ABG purchased Sports Illustrated from Meredith Corp. for $110 million earlier this year. The original plan was that Meredith would run SIs print edition and website, but it is a whole new ball game now with Maven stepping in to run the show.
“We are delighted to find a great home for Sports Illustrated with ABG, one of the world’s premier brand owners and licensors,” said Jon Werther, President, Meredith National Media Group, in a May 27 announcement. “Additionally, we are excited about the opportunity to fully integrate Sports Illustrated’s print and digital products into Meredith’s operations. We believe our proven expertise in content creation and sales and marketing will greatly enhance the vitality and profitability of these channels.”
That has clearly changed. According to The New York Times, Maven is blaming Meredith for the layoffs, while Meredith is saying Maven made the personnel decisions.
Going forward, the remaining SI employees will work at the direction and at the pleasure of Maven, said Meredith.
A tweet by Sports Illustrated United (@SIUnited54) explains their side of the story with the hashtag #SaveSI.
In a rebuttal, management at SI – Ross Levinsohn, Ryan Hunt and Steve Cannella – sent out an email to address the concerns that have been voiced in the media and from concerned fans and staff, or former staff, of Sports Illustrated. Kelsey McKinney published the email in the comments of her story, SI Broverlords Try to Explain Themselves in Email to Staff That Explains Nothing, published on Deadspin. Here are a few excerpts from the email:
Our plan to empower all of you-to create a robust, future-proof Sports Illustrated that will produce the best storytelling in sports for years to come-began on Thursday. It was a painful day for everyone involved. Colleagues and close friends, as well as their families, were affected. Even in an industry and a company where layoffs, newsroom cuts and shrinking budgets have been far too common over the last two decades, the events of Thursday and the way they unfolded were particularly sad for all of us, said Levinsohn, Hunt and Cannella.
As we all continue to work through the emotions of that day, and with some highly inaccurate reporting about our strategy swirling around us, it is important to clarify exactly what our vision for Sports Illustrated is, they added.
The leadership team also said Sports Illustrated would not be taken over by inexperienced bloggers or reporters. They would continue to offer quality journalism to their readers, and they would expand their reach into local journalism markets to cover both pro and college sports.
Evolution is always difficult, particularly when it alters career arcs and newsroom staffs. But the status quo must change, in media in general and at SI specifically. Newspaper and magazine consolidation, including Merediths acquisition of Time Inc, has driven centralization, strategic staleness and job eliminations nationwide, said Levinsohn, Hunt and Canella.
In the past decade more than $100 million in costs were ripped out of the SI business, over 200 staffers were cut, and the company saw significant declines in every major business indicator over the last five years. A focus on quarterly numbers, along with corporate instability, suffocated SIs ability to grow and invest, added the team.
How do you follow up that? It is quite a story – one with two very different sides and we arent going to choose one. Whether we like it or not, journalism is a business, and it needs to be run like one. This includes providing top-quality products and a great user experience, and it means creating a sustainable operation, regardless of how you inherit it. Sometimes tough decisions have to be made, and this has been a year of massive layoffs in the media world. Sports Illustrated is just the latest casualty. Unfortunately, some of the layoffs are sudden, swift and painful, as they were in this case. Ultimately, it seems there are more losers than winners.