'Sports Illustrated' Flameout: Brand Could Disappear As Owner Fires Staff

The sad story of Sports Illustrated is not over yet.  

The NewsGuild of New York has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the brand’s owner, The Arena Group, accusing the company of firing employees who supported the union. 

On January 19, all members of the SI union were told they would be laid off because Authentic Brands Group had revoked Arena’s license to publish the title, the union states. But it rejects that as an excuse for the layoffs. 

“It’s clear that The Arena Group ownership is using an engineered dispute over the SI license as a cover to union-bust and unlawfully target our members,” says Susan DeCarava, president of The NewsGuild of New York. “Filing an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board is just the first step, as we continue to explore all options for our membership.” 



In addition, former CEO Ross Levinsohn resigned from the board, the union continues. 

“Today’s obliteration of Sports Illustrated’s storied newsroom and the union busting tactics is the last straw,” Levinsohn wrote in his resignation letter. “These actions and the inaction of this board are illegal, riddled with self-dealing, and will almost certainly lead to shareholder lawsuits.”  

Levinsohn added, “In my more than 30 years inside of public and private companies, I’ve never witnessed more negligence in my career.” 

Of course, all this begs an even larger question — does the world need SI and some of its more retrograde elements? 

In the interest of full disclosure, this reporter was never much of an SI reader. Even assuming one was interested, the coverage was not on a par with, say, A.J. Liebling’s boxing columns in The New Yorker. 

Still, the brand was important in its day — one of the great magazine packages.  

Let us step back to 1954 when SI was just starting off at Time Inc.  

“In those days, they said sports was tennis and golf. It wasn’t,” said Joan Throckmorton, a young copywriter who wrote direct mail pieces for Sports Illustrated at the start. “Tex Maule was there early, and we were doing a lot more cogent advertising. But there was no professional basketball. Pro football was just getting started, and I was dating one of the guys on CBS, so I got to know all of the New York Giants football team, which was nice for a young gal working for Sports Illustrated. It was really wild and crazy — Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote, the whole bunch.”

Time Inc was a fun place to work in those days. “Two weeks wouldn’t go by without some floor party — a big birthday party,” laughed Throckmorton, who died in 2003. “Ad salesmen met at the 3G’s across the street at 5:30, and drink, drink, drink. There were people falling down elevator shafts, being caught in embarrassing positions.”

Maybe Marc Benioff should buy the SI brand and re-unite it with Time magazine under one roof.  



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