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Sports Illustrated employees left in limbo as publisher faces money troubles

The jobs of people who produce Sports Illustrated were in limbo Friday after the company that paid to maintain the iconic brand's print and digital products told staff that its license was revoked.

In an email to employees Friday morning, the Arena Group, which operates Sports Illustrated and related properties, said that because of the revocation, "we will be laying off staff that work on the SI brand.”

Authentic Brands Group owns the Sports Illustrated brand and had been licensing it to Arena. Authentic later said in a statement it intends to keep Sports Illustrated going. The company is negotiating with Arena and other publishing entities to determine who will do that, according to a person with knowledge of the talks who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly about them.

Until those negotiations are resolved, it's unclear which journalists would actually do the work of making Sports Illustrated. It was not clear how many jobs were affected.

Sports Illustrated's employee union said in a statement that the layoffs initially announced by Arena would be a significant number and possibly all, of the NewsGuild workers represented.

“We have fought together as a union to maintain the standard of this storied publication that we love, and to make sure our workers are treated fairly for the value they bring to this company. It is a fight we will continue,” Mitch Goldich, NFL editor and unit chair, said in a statement.

The guild's statement also called for Authentic to “ensure the continued publication of SI and allow it to serve our audience in the way it has for nearly 70 years.”

Authentic said it would do so, and that "we are confident that going forward the brand will continue to evolve and grow in a way that serves sports news readers, sports fans and consumers. We are committed to ensuring that the traditional ad-supported Sports Illustrated media pillar has best in class stewardship to preserve the complete integrity of the brand’s legacy.”

In a statement on Friday, the Arena Group said it was negotiating with Authentic about the license, “with plans to sustain our commitment to delivering quality content throughout the ongoing discussions.”

Arena admitted that it had failed to make a quarterly payment of $3.75 million and Authentic had put it on notice that it intended to end the licensing agreement. As a result, Arena announced Thursday it would make a “significant reduction” in its workforce of more than 100 people.

The Arena Group acquired publishing rights from Authentic in 2019 for at least 10 years. The group’s stewardship of Sports Illustrated has had many hurdles since then. In December, it fired chief executive officer Ross Levinsohn when the magazine’s alleged use of AI-generated stories drew public backlash.

Sports Illustrated has had a rough six years. It was acquired by Meredith Publishing in 2018 as part of the purchase of Time Inc., which started the magazine in 1954.

Less than a year later, Meredith sold the magazine's intellectual property to Authentic for $110 million. Authentic owns the intellectual property of many brands and stars, including Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali and Reebok.

Once a weekly publication, Sports Illustrated was reduced to biweekly publishing in 2018 and became a monthly in 2020.

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Reedy reported from Los Angeles and Bauder, an Associated Press Media Writer, reported from New York.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/sports