- Sports Illustrated used to be a very strong magazine.
- Now it is as if he is dead or dying.
- The rest of the magazine business is scrambling to avoid the same fate.
Sports Illustrated used to be America’s cultural touchstone.
Now it appears to be dead, or very close to it: due to a dispute between the company that owns the rights to the Sports Illustrated brand and the company that actually produces Sports Illustrated, similar to many things you might read. there will be people working there was fired.
It’s unclear what will actually become of the publication: In a statement released Friday afternoon, Authentic Brands Group, which owns the Sports Illustrated brand, confirmed that The Arena Group, which publishes Sports Illustrated, is no longer licensed to do so. But Authentic Brands pledged to “continue to develop the Sports Illustrated brand, including editorial.”
It’s sad for the rest of the people who work at Sports Illustrated. Sad for a certain media person — like me — who remembers when Sports Illustrated Really Mattered.
For those who don’t remember that era: Sports Illustrated was a lot of things in the pre-Internet world. This was the way many people learned about sports, as TV only provided a small sample; A place to read the Great Writing (John Steinbeck, William Faulkner and Don DeLillo, among others, materials published there); and a place to see almost naked women in their very popular swimwear. For athletes, being on the cover of Sports Illustrated was a really big deal.
Obviously, the world is different now. You can get the latest sports news, analysis and videos from millions of places (much of it free); Big Writing from Big Men isn’t what most people want in a sports diet; and totally naked people doing all kinds of things are just a click away, no matter where you are. Now there are generations of athletes who have never seen a Sports Illustrated cover.
More likely in recent years read about a scandal or a dumber argument in Sports Illustrated than if you actually read Sports Illustrated.
All of which explains why Sports Illustrated will be in trouble no matter what. Even if its most recent owners are people who actually care about publishing the publication instead of those who want to make money through the Sports Illustrated brand clothing and airport shops.
But it’s also a reminder that magazines, in general, are an endangered species.
When I started my journalism career, two of the most important places in the world were Time Inc. and was Condé Nast. Time Inc. published Sports Illustrated, Time, and People, among other magazines. Condé Nast owned the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue and many other prestigious titles. When Apple CEO Steve Jobs was preparing to introduce the iPad in 2010, he spent a lot of time meeting with people in those places, trying to fix iPad versions of their problems.
Now Time Inc. is atomized. Some of his remaining publications were bought by billionaires as outright gimmicks; most of the rest are owned by something called DotDash Meredith, which you’d only hear about if you work in or cover digital media.
And it’s under Condé Nast constant tension. My social feeds have been full this week obituaries Pitchfork, for online music publishing Conde bought years ago and now seems close to folding.
The reason, of course, is that you’re reading this story online—which has exploded both the use case and the business model for magazines.
Magazines used to be the places that turned the world of information into something you could hold in your hand, and now companies like Google, Facebook and TikTok are filling that role. And so advertisers who support magazines are also shifting their money to digital alternatives.
So feel free to pitch both an idea and an actual place where people work for Sports Illustrated. But save some for your other favorite publications. You may need to shed some for them sooner or later.
January 19, 2024: This story was updated with a statement from Authentic Brands Group.