On Friday morning, The Arena Group informed Sports Illustrated staff members that a significant number of them would be laid off from their roles at the heralded magazine publication. Authentic Brands Group, which is the owner of the magazine, terminated its licensing agreement with The Arena Group that publishes Sports Illustrated. Many people perceive the future of the publication itself to be in doubt, although no final resolution seems to have been reached.
“This is another difficult day in what has been a difficult four years for Sports Illustrated under Arena Group (previously The Maven) stewardship,” the Sports Illustrated Union and The NewsGuild of New York said in a statement. “We are calling on ABG to ensure the continued publication of SI and allow it to serve our audience in the way it has for nearly 70 years. We expect The Arena Group to honor all the terms of our union contract and will fight for every one of our colleagues to be treated fairly.”
Several writers were given notices of termination, prompting readers, former writers and other industry professionals to react to the news on social media. Some writers, including Emma Baccellieri and Stephanie Apstein, were informed that they had 90 days remaining in their current jobs. Moreover, Ross Levinsohn, the former chief executive officer of The Arena Group, resigned from his board position at the company on Friday.
“The actions of this Board and the destruction of Sports Illustrated’s storied brand and newsroom are the last straw,” Levinsohn said in a post on LinkedIn. “An incredible team spent years rebuilding great brands like SI through very challenging times. To watch in horror what is transpiring now is one of the most disappointing things I’ve ever witnessed in my professional life.”
Los Angeles Times Employees Go on One-Day Strike
The Sports Illustrated news occurred simultaneously with the first strike in the 142-year history of the Los Angeles Times, a one-day stand from existing staffers to respond to forthcoming layoffs to the staff. The Los Angeles Times Guild revealed plans for this action to occur when the newspaper reported that it could lose up to 20% of the 500-person newsroom. Two weeks ago, executive editor Kevin Merida resigned from the outlet after a mutual agreement with owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong.
“The hardest decisions to make are those that impact our employees, and we do not come to any such decisions lightly,” a representative for the paper told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. “We are continuing to review the revenue projections for this year and taking a very careful look at expenses and what our organization can support.”
The sports section of the print edition of the Los Angeles Times took on a new format over the summer, forgoing traditional box scores, standings and other game stories. Instead, the masthead implemented more comprehensive reporting, including profiles, investigations and other analyses.
In a story published after the fact, many dedicated readers of the outlet expressed their aversion to the transformation and canceled their subscriptions. Following these complaints, sports editor Iliana Limón Romero outlined ways print readers can access the television listings and local sports calendar using digital devices.
“Recent staff reductions and an upcoming change to our printing press forced us to adopt early deadlines and we no longer can deliver box scores, standings or game results in the print edition,” Limón Romero said in the article. “We also cannot provide box scores due to lack of staff resources.”
VanHaaren Says ESPN Contract Will Not Be Renewed
ESPN college football reporter Tom VanHaaren also announced Friday that the company has not renewed his contract in June. VanHaaren has worked at ESPN for the last 11 years and shared that he is going to take some time to reflect on the experiences he has had. Reflecting on the outcome, he does not have any regrets and knows the effort he put into the role.
“I always tell people that I wanted to do three things when I was a kid,” VanHaaren said in a post on X. “I wanted to be a golf pro, I wanted to be on Saturday Night Live and I wanted to work at ESPN. I got one out of the three, so I’m thankful for that.”
Van Haaren’s upcoming layoff comes several months after the network parted with several members of its on-air talent team, including Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, Suzy Kolber and Jalen Rose. The Walt Disney Company as a whole eliminated 7,000 jobs in a round of layoffs last year to slash $5.5 billion in operating costs.
FOX Sports to Stream Caitlin Clark Senior Night Ceremony
“On the digital side, we know that anything we do with Caitlin Clark has a built-in audience. She raises the floor.”
FOX Sports will live stream the Iowa women’s basketball team Senior Night festivities, featuring superstar Caitlin Clark, following their game on Sunday against Ohio State on FOX. It will be available on the FOX Sports App, FOXSports.com, YouTube & TikTok (@CBBonFOX).
On the season, to date, women’s college basketball on FOX is up 18 percent from last year while games on FS1 are up 27 percent. Iowa and Clark were involved in games on both networks which now hold the record for most-watched women’s college basketball games they have aired.
FOX Sports digital has created different ways to showcase premier live sporting event moments, including one recently with Clark. During Iowa’s game against Maryland, @CBBonFOX on TikTok devoted an isolated camera to Iowa’s megastar and streamed every second of her while she was on offense. This was the first time FOX Sports did a live game stream on TikTok. They reported 150,000 live viewers and another 800,000 views on highlights of the stream.
“The amount of interest in her is incredible,” said Michael Bucklin, SVP, Digital Content, FOX Sports to Sports Business Journal. “You’re always looking to build those stars. It’s the reason people watch. … On the digital side, we know that anything we do with Caitlin Clark has a built-in audience. She raises the floor. A lot of our ideas start with, ‘What is something cool we can do with Caitlin Clark?’”
MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference Examines the Future of Sports Content
“Content is king.”
This year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference has kicked off in Boston. The annual event brings together the leading figures in sports analytics, business and technology. Several sessions are planned over the two-day event discussing topics such as the next era of college athletes, sports wagering, women’s sports, ticketing and sports media.
Several sessions relate to data and analytics as the name suggests, however, many of the topics come back to engagement with fans and the way the fan is consuming sports and the data that is available to them. One of the sessions, “The Future of Sports and Sports Business” featured panelists discussing innovation and change.
The description of the panel asked, “How do sports organizations position themselves for sustainable long-term success?” The panel explored the future of sports and innovation opportunities within on-field experiences, fan engagement and how sports are consumed. The panel also looked at how organizations can use analytics, AI, and data to improve all aspects of the game.
“Content is king,” said Kate Johnson, Global Marketing Director, Sports, Entertainment and Content Partnerships at Google. She continued and gave examples of where AI could help create content needed. In one example, she noted women’s sports being covered at a much smaller percentage than men’s sports. AI could help create content that could help close that gap.
Another topic the panel addressed is the amount of content now being created by athletes. “The power in the hands of talent,” Johnson said. “… The power is so much in the athletes, the talent’s hands. To talk about and to generate the content that they care about, the stories that they want to tell, the stories that they know their fans will relate to. I think that is going to help traditional leagues and brands that are trying to work through an innovation in terms of a brand perception. The power being in the athletes hands is only a good thng, when those athletes are telling stories that only they can powerfully tell.”
The panel also brought up the topic of how fans consume sports and the change that is happening. A shocking statistic was thrown out that 40% of Generation Z has not yet been to a live sporting event. This is something leagues, teams and media networks need to be thinking about as they plan for the future.
The event continues through Saturday and a live stream of the conference can be seen by clicking here.
Gregg Giannotti: “You Can’t Talk Bad Football, Bad Baseball, Bad Basketball Every Single Day”
“I’ll opt more for the funny personal story than I would ‘let’s talk about the minor league system or the bullpen.'”
Early on, Traina asked Giannotti about simulcasting local radio in New York on national television and if that could present a problem from a topic standpoint. Giannotti replied quickly, “We do New York sports talk and we don’t really care if someone out in Sacramento doesn’t like it.”
Moving on, Traina pointed out what he enjoys about the show is that it is not all sports talk and he assumed from listening to Giannotti on a regular basis that he would not enjoy what he does quite as much if he had to talk solely about sports.
“…I would not be happy if I had to do straight four hours of sports talk,” Giannotti said. “…Where we are today, especially now at this point in my life, early 40’s, two kids, I just have different interests.”
He did point out, however, that there is plenty of content available for anyone who wants specialized sports talk. “If you really want hardcore straight Yankees, there’s a podcast for that, or straight Mets, there is a podcast for that,” he said.
Giannotti continued, “Yes, when there’s something big going on in New York sports they want to hear what we have to say. But, when there’s not, and a lot of times the teams have been bad or it’s a slow time in sports now, they’re coming to us for our personalities, our takes on all sorts of things. And especially in the morning, they want to laugh…Maybe in 2018 I wouldn’t have done this, but I’ll opt more for the funny personal story than I would ‘let’s talk about the minor league system or the bullpen.’ I couldn’t do that. I’d rather do a show on reality television before I could do straight four hour sports talk now.”
He gave credit to those hosts, nationally or others on WFAN, who do more of the straight sports, shouting at one another type of shows, but added, “I cant imagine, do you guys really care that much about that particular topic? Theres no way, with everything going on in the world, they care that much to be yelling back and forth about who the first baseman should be. There’s no way, and I sometimes feel that can come across a little bit phony if you’re that passionate about something that’s so minute, especially when nothing is going on. So, I try to be authentic and if I’m interested in it and Boomer’s interested in it then it comes across to the audeince that we care and are passionate and generally that translates.”
Both Giannotti and Traina agreed that as they have aged, they care less about hardcore sports, agreeing that priorities change and sports is less of a factor in one’s life. ‘Gio’ did point out, however, that the teams winning and losing has an effect on your show.
“The show has evolved a lot because the teams have been terrible around here, too,” he said. “You can’t talk bad football, bad baseball, bad basketball every single day. It’s sickening.”
Traina said he figured if the teams were bad, that would help sports radio, however, Giannotti pointed out that can be the case short-term, however, if it is long-term it can be detrimental. “If you’re talking one specific day, yes. A terrible call in a game, a playoff loss or one specific day…Having some of these seasons that the teams are just nothing by the end of it and you’re waiting for the offseason. It’s miserable to be irrelevant in New York City.”
Traina also brought up then topic of show preparation, asking how it works between producer Al Dukes, Giannotti and partner Boomer Esiason. Traina was surprised to learn Esiason prefers not to know too much about topics planned or the order of topics. “We both know what’s important and what the audience is going to want to hear and what we are going to want to talk about,” Giannotti said. “He’s doesn’t have to worry about me not knowing something, I don’t have to worry about him not knowing something…He’s so prepared and so locked in for a former athlete, still to this day, after doing it 17, 18 years. I never have to worry about him not knowing what’s going on. Never, ever, ever.”
Giannotti said a lot of it comes down to trust. His trust in his partner, the station’s trust in the show and the trust they have been shown by program director’s Mark Chernoff and Spike Eskin. With Eskin soon heading back to Philadelphia, someone new will be coming in to lead the programming department and Giannotti hopes they maintain a similar relationship with whomever that may be, saying, “Hopefully that next guy leaves us alone and trusts us, too, but you never know.”