Layoffs And AI Scandals Plague Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated (SI) magazine has been struggling for years. But on January 19, the celebrated publication faced its toughest blow yet. In a surprise move, masses of employees were sent layoff emails, effective immediately, and others were told they might only be able to continue working for a few months.

The roughly 100 journalists and reporters for Sports Illustrated were called into a brief Zoom meeting, where they were informed of the layoffs and massive financial struggles within the company. The biggest financial blow came in January 2024, when the Arena Group, which operates and publishes Sports Illustrated, had its publication license revoked for failure to make a $3.75 million payment.

Authentic Brands Group bought Sports Illustrated in 2019, striking a deal with the Arena Group to publish the magazine in both print and digital formats. However, the Arena Group’s recently missed payment broke their licensing agreement with Authentic Brands Group, triggering the layoffs.

This isn’t the first trouble the athletic magazine has faced recently. In 2023, it was reported that SI had been publishing stories under the names of Artificial Intelligence-generated authors and profile pictures. Further reports and anonymous employees accused SI of also using AI to write the articles themselves, although the company claims this wasn’t the case. SI fired the third-party writing company that had created the articles, AdVon Commerce, over the fiasco.

Because of the AI scandal, the Arena Group fired CEO Ross Levinsohn in December 2023, hiring Manoj Bhargava in his place. Mr. Levinsohn became CEO of Sports Illustrated in June 2019 and then the CEO of the Arena Group as a whole in August 2020.

Shortly after becoming CEO of SI, Mr. Levinsohn laid off 40 of their journalists and moved to an independent contractor model. This operating model is why SI hired AdVon Commerce to write some of their articles, leading to the eventual AI scandal that got Mr. Levinsohn fired.

It is unclear what the future of Sports Illustrated looks like, but Authentic Brands Group vowed that they wished to ensure that Sports Illustrated “…continues to thrive as it has for the past nearly 70 years.” However, among these layoffs, AI scandals, and financial mismanagement, it is unclear just what the future holds for this once-venerable sports magazine.