Is this the end of an era for the beloved, iconic sports magazine and maybe a foreshadowing of journalism in the future? Here’s what we know.
I vividly remember walking to the mailbox during the first week of every month while I was probably six through twelve years old. My dad would sift through the mail and outstretch his arm with the latest Sports Illustrated magazine addressed to me.
Nearly ten years later, somewhere in my parents’ house, sits a box (that has outlasted many things lost in multiple moves) with plenty of those iconic Sports Illustrated magazines over the years.
Some that I remember off the top of my head are: “The Freak,” a nod to Tim Lincecum, one of my favorite Giants pitchers ever. “Five Stars,” an Olympic preview edition of the 2012 USA Gymnastics team. “Linsanity: Against All Odds,” remember Jeremy Lin’s iconic run with the Knicks? So many iconic covers and magazines filled with memorable features on some of the best players of this generation.
Little did I know back in 2010 but reading those lengthy, and I mean lengthy articles, would fuel my passion and fire for sports journalism. For years, I only dreamed of writing articles like the ones featured in those iconic magazines. But now, that dream is at risk not only because of the unknown future of Sports Illustrated but also because the journalism industry as a whole is barely scraping by during unprecedented times.
Here’s what we know:
Nearly 70 years after its first-ever publication, Sports Illustrated has perhaps come to its close. It’s been known that layoffs in journalism have been an issue for many years, but on the morning of Jan. 19, the Arena Group, who had a license from Authentic Brands Group to publish Sports Illustrated content, announced that they would be laying off a huge portion of the writers and editors.
It was revealed that the Arena Group had failed to make a quarterly payment of $3.75 million and Authentic had put it on notice that it intended to end the licensing agreement. As a result, Arena announced on Jan. 18 that it would make a “significant reduction” in its workforce of more than 100 people.
The magazine’s union shared a statement on X that Sports Illustrated workers have been told that Arena plans to “lay off a significant number, possibly all” of the staff represented by the union.
“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, said in an additional statement.
The recent news follows a rough patch for the long-coveted magazine as they were recently caught using artificial intelligence (AI) and producing articles under the byline of authors who simply don’t exist.
This caused a major conversation of ethics and transparency within the Sports Illustrated Union and its passionate readers. After being caught using the portrait and bio of an unidentified person from a website that sells AI-generated portraits, Sports Illustrated said the articles in question were created by a third-party company, AdVon Commerce, which assured the magazine that they were written and edited by humans, not computer-generated. The magazine claimed to end its partnership with the company and had nothing further to share.
Although this happened in November, the magazine has continued its struggle to dig itself out of a rut of substantial debt and a tainted image.
Since then, Authentic Brands has confirmed that it had The Arena Group’s license terminated as a result of its failure to pay its quarterly license fee with the intention of reviving the future of the Sports Illustrated brand.
“Authentic is here to ensure that the brand of Sports Illustrated, which includes its editorial arm, continues to thrive as it has for the past nearly 70 years,” the company said. “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.”
While this is everyone’s hope, things don’t look too good for the well-loved Sports Illustrated brand, whose downfall is arguably the result of poor management with a lazy attention to detail.
Unfortunately, the layoffs at SI aren’t the only ones going on. On Jan. 23, a TIME spokesperson shared that the outlet had laid off 15% of its union-represented editorial employees, roughly 30 employees across different departments.
The same day, the LA Times announced that it was laying off 115 people, or more than 20% of the newsroom.
The cuts were seen as “necessary” since the paper could no longer lose $30 million to $40 million a year without making progress toward building a higher readership that would bring in advertising and subscriptions to sustain the organization, said the paper’s owner, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong.
Is the future of journalism at stake? Yes. While we may no longer have the power to save Sports Illustrated, readership needs to increase to avoid layoffs in the future. At this rate, my own future might be at stake as someone who has dreamed of sharing stories.