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Sports Illustrated staff lose jobs after magazine's transfer of control
[NEW YORK] Sports Illustrated, which set a standard for sportswriting and photography during its 20th-century heyday, was transferred to a new company on Thursday. Along with the change, there were layoffs, according to three people with knowledge of the moves.
The number of those who lost their jobs under the magazine's new steward, Maven, a digital platform company in Seattle, was not immediately clear. Before the layoffs, there were 31 full-time employees at the magazine who belonged to the NewsGuild union and nearly 80 employees who worked at the Sports Illustrated website.
Journalists at the 65-year-old publication arrived at the office in lower Manhattan on Thursday not knowing whether or not they would have jobs by the end of the day. By evening, after cardboard boxes appeared, some of them had been laid off, the people said.
In a statement, Maven said it planned to "refocus" Sports Illustrated for a January relaunch, adding that it would "strengthen mobile platform delivery and increase the development of complementary video content".
Maven also said much of the coverage would shift to a network of bloggers, known as Sports Illustrated Mavens, who would cover up to 200 college and professional teams.
Sports Illustrated has changed hands more than once in recent years.
In 2018, it became the property of Meredith, the venerable Des Moines, Iowa, publisher of Family Circle and of Better Homes and Gardens, after that company bought Time Inc in a deal valued at roughly US$2.8 billion.
Meredith quickly sought buyers for Sports Illustrated, which was not a fit for its stable of women's and lifestyle publications. It found a taker in a New York brand management company, Authentic Brands Group, which owns the commercial rights to celebrities including Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, as well as retailers like Juicy Couture.
The US$110 million deal went through in May, giving Authentic Brands Group the magazine's archive of photographs and covers, as well as its Sportsperson of the Year and swimsuit issue franchises. Under the arrangement, Meredith was to continue operating the website and biweekly print magazine. Then Authentic Brands Group sold that license to Maven.
On Thursday, the transfer was completed, Meredith said in a statement.
"As the new licenser of Sports Illustrated, Maven made the Sports Illustrated personnel decisions that Meredith communicated to the SI employees today," the statement said. "Going forward, the remaining SI employees will work at the direction and at the pleasure of Maven."
The NewsGuild expressed its concerns in a letter that it made public before the layoffs Thursday, questioning whether the job cuts would "not only be sudden and devastating to the staff directly impacted, but severely compromise the ability of the remaining staff to put out a quality product, thus imperiling the future of Sports Illustrated".
A group of Sports Illustrated staff members also objected to having Maven at the helm. They said in a statement that the company "wants to replace top journalists in the industry with a network of Maven freelancers and bloggers, while reducing or eliminating departments that have ensured that the stories we publish and produce meet the highest standards".
In June, Maven named Ross Levinsohn the chief executive of Sports Illustrated. Levinsohn, previously an executive at News Corp and Yahoo, was formerly the publisher of the Los Angeles Times during a period of unrest in the newsroom.
On Tuesday, in an email obtained by The New York Times, Mr Levinsohn told the Sports Illustrated staff that Chris Stone, a 27-year veteran of the magazine and its editor-in-chief, would leave the publication, but was "considering an offer" from Maven. Mr Stone did not respond to requests for comment.
In Mr Stone's place, two staff members, Steve Cannella and Ryan Hunt, were elevated to co-editors-in-chief, the email said.
"We care deeply — as we know all of you do — about the excellent work SI does and the power and prestige it carries for us, our audience and for the people we cover," Mr Levinsohn wrote.
Through a spokesman, Mr Levinsohn declined to comment on Thursday.
In an email to the staff Wednesday, Mr Cannella and Mr Hunt said: "Our goal is simple: to double down on the best of what Sports Illustrated has always been known for — unparalleled journalism and powerful storytelling — while creating a new company that's built for success in the 21st century and beyond."