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The publisher of Sports Illustrated plans to lay off most or all of the iconic brand’s staff, putting its future in doubt, according to the union that represents workers at the venerable magazine.

“Earlier today the workers of Sports Illustrated were notified that The Arena Group is planning to lay off a significant number, possibly all, of the Guild-represented workers at SI,” the union representing most of the publication’s employees said on Friday. 

It called on the magazine’s owner, Authentic Brands Group, to ensure the continued publication of the nearly 70-year media brand.

“We have fought together as a union to maintain the standard of this storied publication that we love, and to make sure our workers are treated fairly for the value they bring to this company. It is a fight we will continue,” Mitch Goldich, NFL editor and unit chair at The NewsGuild of New York, said in the labor group’s statement. 

Authentic, which owns Sports Illustrated but sold the publishing rights to the Arena Group, said Friday that Sports Illustrated would continue despite Arena’s license to serve as publisher having been terminated this week after failing to pay its quarterly license fee. 

“We are confident that going forward the brand will continue to evolve and grow in a way that serves sports news readers, sports fans and consumers,” Authentic said in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring that the traditional ad-supported Sports Illustrated media pillar has best-in-class stewardship to preserve the complete integrity of the brand’s legacy.”

Authentic did not elaborate on what the scenario means for Sports Illustrated’s staff. 

Pink slips were given to the publication’s entire staff, according to Front Office, which first reported the news.

The Arena Group on Thursday announced it was making a significant reduction of over 100 employees in the company’s workforce, saying the company held substantial debt and recently missed payments. Those missed payments prompting Authentic to pull the publishing license for Sports Illustrated, the union noted.

A day later, Arena issued a statement that did little to clarify the publication’s future.

“Even though the publishing license has been revoked we will continue to produce Sports Illustrated until this is resolved,” Arena said in a Friday statement. “We hope to be the company to take SI forward but if not, we are confident that someone will. If it is another business, we will support with the transition so the legacy of Sports Illustrated doesn’t suffer,” stated the company, which described itself as among the entities in active discussions with Authentic. 

AI controversy

The Arena Group last month terminated CEO Ross Levinsohn after a meeting of its board to consider steps to improve its “operational efficiency and revenue.” The decision came after SI was embroiled in controversy following a report in Futurism that it used artificial intelligence to write stories. 

Arena Group denied the allegations but withdrew the stories questioned pending an internal review.

Arena Group also fired its chief operating office and corporate counsel in December. 

Levinsohn resigned from Arena’s board on Friday. “The actions of this board and the actions against Sports Illustrated’s storied brand and newsroom are the last straw,” he posted on LinkedIn. 

Sports Illustrated was launched by Time Inc. owner and publisher Henry Luce in 1954. For decades the weekly print publication was considered a benchmark for sports journalism, scooping up national magazine awards and influencing several generations of sportswriters.

Long a weekly magazine, Sports Illustrated shifted to a biweekly schedule in 2018 and became a monthly in 2020. The publication was sold by Meredith Corp. to ABG in 2019 for $110 million. Within weeks, ABG licensed SI’s publishing rights to Maven, a digital company that later changed its name to The Arena Group. 

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