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Sports Illustrated Layoffs Part of Broader Moves in Print, Digital Journalism

“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.”

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Print Journalism Layoffs (SI; LA Times; VanHaaren)
Sports Illustrated Logo - Courtesy: Sports Illustrated | Los Angeles Times Logo - Courtesy: The Los Angeles Times | Tom VanHaaren - Courtesy: Tom VanHaaren on X

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.

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Dan Le Batard: Stephen A. Smith Can Make $18 Million Per Year on His Own

“He’s going to want power and a bunch of other things because he is the modern-day Howard Cosell whether you like it or not…”

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Stephen A. Smith
Courtesy: David M. Russell, Disney

Stephen A. Smith is reportedly in contract negotiations with ESPN ahead of the expiration of his deal next year, according to John Ourand of Puck. Ourand reported that Smith had been presented with an initial offer of $18 million per year for five years at the network, making him the highest-paid talent at ESPN.

Smith, however, is reportedly looking for $25 million per year, and his agents replied by asking the network to look at the deal Pat McAfee received that pays him nearly $30 million per year with his eponymous program, The Pat McAfee Show, and appearing on College GameDay. Another comparison that Ourand reports was made is the nine-year multiplatform media rights extension between ESPN and Omaha Productions worth $700 million, which includes the continuation of Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli and expanded original content collaboration.

Dan Le Batard discussed the report on Smith and the contract negotiations on Friday’s edition of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, prefacing his opinion by stating that show contributor JuJu Gotti had informed him that no one wanted to hear how much money those in the media were making. Le Batard finds it interesting though that Smith is reportedly being offered the highest salary in the history of the network for a talent.

“It used to be for Jon Gruden at $6.5 million, but the explosion of everything that’s happened has made everyone realize, ‘Oh, all these talent are super undervalued,’” Le Batard explained, “even though everyone listening to this would say, ‘It’s ridiculous for anybody to be making the kind of money doing this nonsense that people can make.’”

As he continued, Le Batard conveyed that Monday Night Football play-by-play announcer Joe Buck is currently the highest-paid employee at ESPN (although reportedly Troy Aikman is paid more than Buck), but he does not have to do as much as Smith. Aside from reportedly looking for $25 million per year, Le Batard believes there is more than just money involved in the negotiations.

“He’s going to want power and a bunch of other things because he is the modern-day Howard Cosell whether you like it or not, and beyond sports, he’s got conquering ambitions because he is casting a wide net going on FOX, making sure the audience is as large as it can be as he heads into the leverage of negotiations because he can do this for $18 million a year on his own. He doesn’t need ESPN.”

Smith is the executive producer and a featured commentator on ESPN’s First Take, the morning debate show that has garnered 22 consecutive months of year-over-year growth. He also recently completed his second season on NBA Countdown on which he covered several marquee matchups during the year, including the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks. Outside of ESPN though, Smith has built Mr. SAS Productions, through which he recently produced a docuseries on debate-format television and also hosts his own program, The Stephen A. Smith Show, at least three times per week. Smith joined the iHeartPodcast Network this past February within a distribution deal for his independent program after initially working with Audacy’s Cadence13.

“He sets a table for all the rights that [ESPN has] unless it’s the Stanley Cup,” producer Mike Ryan said, “so what I would do if I’m ESPN is I would pay him $10 million for every sport he can actually cover because the daytime programming on [Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final,] a game that they have – their coverage was Mike Greenberg asking Udonis Haslem about what he thought about tonight.”

Ryan emphasized that when the United States hosts the World Cup in 2026, it is more likely that the ESPN show will be discussing quarterback Dak Prescott than the international soccer tournament. As a steadfast Florida Panthers fan with a keen interest in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, he opined that the network needs to follow the model it has in growing other entities. For example, Ryan stated that Smith has shown everyone what he can do with the National Football League and that Pat McAfee has discussed the National Hockey League on his program.

“What has happened with hockey and the ratings with ESPN now engaged has been an explosion of people realizing how wonderful these playoffs actually are because elsewhere on the network, they are better partners to hockey than they are to baseball by a lot,” Le Batard said. “The baseball people are dying at ESPN because they clearly do not care about the sport, but they care about hockey more and believe in the future of hockey more and spend as if they believe in the future of hockey more, but the morning shows aren’t equipped to talk about this well.”

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Mike Ryan to Dan Le Batard: ‘I Will Quit This Company’ If You Put Up Billboards

“I need this cup like I need oxygen, and I don’t like the silly games this show is playing around it because you’re messing with something that I care about deeply.”

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Mike Ryan Ruiz

The Florida Panthers are in jeopardy of forsaking a 3-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers, dropping the last two games and heading back to Edmonton, Alberta for a pivotal Game 6. The Stanley Cup will be inside Rogers Place as the two teams take the ice on Friday night, but there is a narrative taking place beyond the boards. Greg Cote, columnist at the Miami Herald and contributor to The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, wrote a column ahead of the series calling McDavid an underachiever and has remained firm in his take that he is an overrated hockey player.

Dan Le Batard began his program on Wednesday morning reacting to producer Mike Ryan’s public complaints about the program. Within his complaint, he stated that he works with “the most frustrating and most inconsiderate people imaginable” and that his contract is up in May 2025, which Le Batard added that everyone is up at that time. Someone who works with Le Batard texted him saying that he did not get what was going on if this was a bit and then proceeded to address the origin of Cote’s take on McDavid.

“[Mike Ryan] is infuriated with your father and everything we’re doing in this series, and he’s furious with me even though I can’t execute the things that I want, and furthermore, when your father did this, I was not here,” Le Batard said, addressing producer Chris Cote. “I was as far away from here as you could be while remaining in the contiguous United States, and I’m getting blamed nationally – not you Mike Ryan, not you; not even Greg Cote. Nationally, I’m the one being blamed for saying, ‘McDavid is overrated’ even though I in no way endorse that take. What I do endorse is Greg Cote making a fool of himself nationally.”

Throughout the show, a montage of tweets and memes directed towards Greg Cote and the program were being displayed on all of the screens in the studio and shipping container. Ryan felt that Le Batard giving Cote’s take any oxygen was something that is ridiculous and called him the villain, claiming that he wants the seventh game of the series to go to overtime. Conversely, Le Batard wants to double down on the bet and put up a billboard of Cote in Edmonton, an action that Ryan said if taken would cause him to quit the company.

Le Batard told a story about how during the pandemic, the program needed to make a decision about its future and that he and co-host Jon “Stugotz” Weiner had a disagreement. Throughout his time, the Clevelander facility in Miami Beach was deteriorating, necessitating that changes be made. The show eventually signed a multiyear content distribution, monetization and sponsorship agreement with DraftKings, and the program is currently available to watch on the DraftKings Network FAST channel, along with several other distribution platforms.

“I wanted to go with DraftKings and [Stugotz] wanted to go with SiriusXM,” Le Batard said. “SiriusXM had a bunch of structure and marketing – they put our names on billboards and stuff – and they’ve done content before. DraftKings [had not], and we were stuck. Stugotz and I didn’t agree, and Mike Ryan’s in there and he’s the one with a baby. He’s the one who’s got to worry about what the future is, and Mike Ryan bet on DraftKings because Mike Ryan bet on us.”

Le Batard was incredulous that after making the bet on DraftKings, Ryan would be afraid of doubling down on putting up a billboard in Edmonton. Ryan went on to express that the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in sports and that the program is leaning into the nonsense despite his objections.

“I just need to win on Friday,” Ryan said. “I need this cup like I need oxygen, and I don’t like the silly games this show is playing around it because you’re messing with something that I care about deeply.”

While he was at Game 5 earlier in the week, Ryan shared that many Panthers fans were cursing out Le Batard and were mad at him for being lighthearted towards the Stanley Cup Final. The Panthers organization is trying to win its first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history,  and Ryan wishes that the program would be able to discuss more about the game than the hijinks surrounding the series.

“It’s about celebrating your own ignorance and bringing shame to this market,” Ryan said to Le Batard. “You’re the biggest show in the market and you want to make this whole thing a circus when I want to talk about, ‘Do we bring in Nick Cousins to the fourth line or not?’”

Even though Le Batard was not in Miami when the situation unfolded, he was delighted to see it because of how ridiculous the take was. Ryan felt disappointed that he was perceiving an opposite sentiment to that of when the Miami Heat were in the NBA Finals and Le Batard was defending the city, calling what has happened and the scrutiny towards which he has been subjected an embarrassment.

Ryan wanted to know when Le Batard would be satisfied, to which he replied by asking if a degenerate gambler stops when they are winning. Answering the statement, he said that he hedges and asked Le Batard where his was, leading him to reply by exclaiming that he is preventing him from doubling down on the stupidity of the situation. Le Batard also wants to have a live watch party and stated that he would pay everyone extra from now until the end of the game Friday to go nonstop.

“Dan, don’t be hurt by this, but I want to be around people that care and don’t want to make a joke out of this,” Ryan said. “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be here as my team has a chance to win the Stanley Cup – I want to be with the people that have been in the trenches with me.”

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Draymond Green: Charles Barkley is In His Feelings, ‘I Don’t Think Chuck is Retiring’

“I just think Chuck’s in a very emotional state right now. He’s processing those emotions.”

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Screengrab from The Draymond Green Show discussion on Charles Barkley
Screengrab: The Draymond Green Show

Charles Barkley has been very vocal about the way Warner Bros. Discovery/TNT have handled the situation around NBA media rights as their contract is set to expire at the end of next season. ESPN, NBC and Amazon’s Prime Video are expected to be the NBA media partners after the 2024-25 season. Barkley decided not to wait to see the outcome of the negotiations before announcing his retirement at the conclusion of next season. He made the statement on NBA TV during the post-game show for Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

“There’s been a lot of noise the last few months and I just want to say, I’ve talked to all of the other networks, but I ain’t going nowhere other than TNT, but I have made the decision myself, no matter what happens, next year is going to be my last year on television,” Barkley said.

Since that time many have weighed in on the topic with most believing Barkley will eventually change his mind. Draymond Green spent time on The Draymond Green Show talking about Barkley’s news and his beliefs of what will happen.

“Sir Charles, the great Charles Barkley says he is retiring from broadcasting after next season. Absolutely love Charles Barkley. Y’all know where our journey started, it did not start in a great place. Chuck used to sit on TV and say he was going to punch me in my face, he called me ‘Mr. Triple-Single,'” Green said. “He’s had his fair share of jabs and I’ve had my fair share of jabs as well. Nonetheless I absolutely love that brother and he is incredible; he is amazing and if he retires what a sad day for NBA basketball.

“We’ve all grown accustomed to hearing that voice for the last 20-something years talk NBA basketball. So, what a sad day for NBA basketball whenever Chuck decides to retire. However, I just think Chuck’s being very emotional, I don’t think Chuck’s about to retire. I just think Chuck’s in a very emotional state right now. He’s processing those emotions.”

Green believes that Barkley will make the decision at some point that he was not in the right frame of mind with everything going on to really think about his future. He and others believe Barkley has too much fun doing what he does on Inside the NBA with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal.

“The decision doesn’t have to be made today, tomorrow, or the next day,” Green said. “And then you probably come to your senses and say, ‘I’m not retiring what was I thinking’…that is what I expect from Chuck…I think Chuck was just in his feelings.”

Green said not only does he not think Barkley will retire, but that he hopes he does not retire. He points to Barkley being that rare person where, “even the ones that think they hate him, they go listen because we all love to hear what he has to say.”

Green ended the conversation by adding, “If it is the case, we will do it properly, but it’s been a job well done sir. It’s been an absolute incredible pleasure to turn on TNT and hear ‘Sir Charles’ make fun of people, talk great about people, but more importantly entertain us like we had never been entertained during a basketball show in the history of this game that we love…So, I don’t think Chucks going anywhere, but if he is – much love to Chuck because he’s been absolutely incredible.”

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