Sports Illustrated’s Employees Are Told Print Edition Will Close in May

Friction between Sports Illustrated’s owner and its operator has led to disarray at the venerable magazine in recent months. On Thursday, that dysfunction again came to the fore.

Employees were told during a meeting that the magazine would cease publishing its print edition after its May issue, according to Steve Janisse, a spokesman for Manoj Bhargava, the businessman whose handpicked leadership team effectively operates the publication. But that message runs counter to what Sports Illustrated’s owner, Authentic Brands Group, has said about looking for a way to ensure that the magazine endures in print.

Authentic Brands, primarily a licensing company that acquires the rights to celebrity brands, bought the publication in 2019 because of its name recognition but not with the intention of running a magazine. The Arena Group, a media company that publishes a variety of news websites, then reached an agreement to operate Sports Illustrated, under a license from Authentic Brands.

Last year, Mr. Bhargava, the founder of the 5-Hour Energy drink company, agreed to buy a major stake in the Arena Group.

In January, Authentic Brands terminated its deal with Arena Group after Arena breached its licensing agreement by failing to make a $3.75 million payment. Soon after, much of the publication’s staff was informed that it was being let go immediately or would be laid off within 90 days. Since then, Authentic Brands has been weighing a deal with new licensees, leading to the current uncertainty.

Sports Illustrated was once the crown jewel of sports journalism, and its weekly cover was one of the most coveted pieces of real estate in the industry. But the publication has been in decline for years — the magazine is now a monthly instead of a weekly — and the past few months have been especially brutal.

In November, Sports Illustrated was embarrassed by a report that it had published product reviews under fake author names, seemingly generated by artificial intelligence. The Arena Group blamed the issue on an outside vendor.

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