Content wars have reached the world of sports.
On October 3, Sports Illustrated announced at a staff meeting that roughly half of their writers would be laid off. How the 65-year-old company ended up taking these drastic, cost-cutting measures stems back over the past several months.
On May 27, The Authentic Brands Group announced its intent to acquire the company for $110 Million.
On June 18, the rights to publish the editorial operations were licensed to theMaven Inc.
Then on October 1, the dominos began to fall, starting with Editor-in-Chief Chris Stone stepping down. Less than 48 hours later, the sale of SI had closed and 40 writers had been laid off.
This mass firing marks a detrimental change in the landscape of sports reporting because of the ease and motivation behind the takeover. The new ownership is seeking to change how the company operates, shifting from a content-based system to one of mass-production.
One of the faces behind these firings is the controversial former CEO of The Los Angeles Times, Ross Levinson, whose time with the company is remembered for allegations of sexual misconduct and journalistic malpractice. TheMaven announced Levinson would be their CEO after signing him to a 10-year contract.
Several writers who were interviewed about the new era of SI described a dismal future for the company. These include annual salaries between $25,000-30,000 with additional web traffic based bonuses, as well as multiple daily posts, emphasizing quantity over quality.
If the new structure seems familiar, it is because Levinson implemented the same structure when he was at the LA Times.
The transformation of a well-known brand into a content-mill has left many journalists unhappy.
The corporate dismemberment of Sports Illustrated is more than an unfortunate sports story; it's an unforgivable crime against a living legacy of literate writing.
— david maraniss (@davidmaraniss) October 3, 2019
Shortly after the news of the firings broke, over three-quarters of the staff came together to release this statement with the hashtag SaveSI:
Sports Illustrated employees are concerned about the future of the historic brand.
— Sports Illustrated United (@SIUnited54) October 3, 2019
These changes mark the beginning of a new era of sports reporting. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of hundreds of jobs at major companies like ESPN, SportsNet, and Fox Sports— with the latter fully removing its writing staff in favor of an all video-based approach to sports journalism.
These changes come as major sports journalism outlets have watched their revenues dwindle over the past few decades. Print media, which was the backbone of these companies, is now dying. Subscriptions are down and the trends suggest that they will remain that way.