Sports Illustrated’s media operations unit continues to search for a foothold in the industry, changing hands again only three weeks after [now former] owner, Meredith Corporation sold the 65-year-old magazine’s name and licensing rights to the Authentic Brands Group. That deal was worth $110 million, and would give Authentic Brands Group editorial content for the next two years.
However, according to a press release from Meredith—which was also distributed to SI staff—both the print and digital publishing operations of Sports Illustrated will now be managed by a company known as TheMaven. The Seattle-based media company will pay just $45 million to acquire the legendary periodical, with the remaining value placed against future royalties.
TheMaven is a mostly unknown start-up founded by James Heckman, who has previous experience with Fox and Yahoo. Heckman is also the founder of sports media company Scout.com and the co-founder of Rivals.com, a website notorious for employing a business model that mostly relies on unpaid or severely underpaid labor. Former Tronc executive Ross Levinsohn—twice sued for workplace sexual misconduct—will act as the new CEO of Sports Illustrated; Heckman will remain as CEO of TheMaven.
Levinsohn also paid a recent—but short—tenure as CEO and publisher of the Los Angeles Times. His time there was marked with turmoil, mostly in the form of a 2018 internal investigation. This review investigated past positions with Alta Vista and then with News Corp, involving sexual harassment lawsuits which suggested he had engaged in various sorts of inappropriate behaviors.
Both of these cases were settled (not dismissed, etc).
The result of this review is certainly worth questioning; and even Sports Illustrated senior editor, Jason Schwartz, cautions his leadership. He notes, “Based on NPR’s reporting about Levinsohn’s behavior and the culture he apparently fostered, I have serious questions and concerns about his hire and hope ABG shares its vetting process with us.”
In response, Authentic Brands wrote, in a statement: “ABG conducted due diligence prior to partnering with Maven as it does with each of its potential partners. We have a great confidence in Maven as our new licensing and in Ross Levinsohn as the head of its subsidiary Sports Illustrated Media.”
Time will tell if, for one, TheMaven does indeed have the chops to manage one of the oldest and most beloved media franchises still in the game; and if its leadership will prove worthy of the success.