The owner of the Sports Illustrated brand is about to go to war with the controversial tech and media company that has owned the rights to operate the magazine for less than a year.
A person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Daily Beast that Authentic Brands Group (ABG), the brand-management company that owns the intellectual property of Sports Illustrated, is examining The Maven’s rights under the license to operate the Sports Illustrated media business—potentially removing the legendary sports brand entirely from the hands of the controversial Seattle-based media company.
A spokesman for ABG told The Daily Beast the company does not comment on their relationships with their “nearly 1,000 valued licensees across the world.” The Maven, meanwhile, said in a statement that “ABG and Maven are currently in discussions about disagreements related to the interpretation of the Sports Illustrated licensing agreement.”
On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated staff received a note from The Maven’s general counsel Robert Scott informing them that they are legally required to retain and preserve all documents related to Maven, SI, and ABG. The note alarmed many employees, some of whom were unaware of the dispute between the parent company and the magazine’s operator, which now appears to be an all-out battle.
Last year, Sports Illustrated’s previous owner, the Meredith Corporation, sold the iconic outlet to ABG. That brand-management group then turned over the rights to publish Sports Illustrated to The Maven, a relatively new company that hosts and operates a network of digital brands including Maxim.
The company’s takeover of the historic sports brand has been tumultuous from day one.
Within the first week of The Maven’s operation of SI, it laid off half of the magazine’s staff. Sports Illustrated staffers were infuriated when The Maven blamed the cuts on former owner Meredith, while managers said that the cuts were The Maven’s decision.
The Maven’s purchase of Sports Illustrated was almost immediately panned by onlookers as a transparent plan to turn the once-iconic brand into a content mill. “The Maven wants to build out a network of SI-branded Maven ‘team communities’ that will drive traffic through a combination of cynical SEO ploys, news aggregation, and low-paid and unpaid labor,” lamented one particularly scathing Deadspin write-up.
And last month, as the media industry reckoned with its own systemic racial inequality amid nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd, employees at several Maven properties called on the company to stop operating a pro-cop news outlet called Blue Lives Matter. In a heated early June meeting, staffers called the site “disgraceful,” and noted that it had become a haven for racist commenters and factually inaccurate information meant to deflect from concerns about police brutality or the criminal-justice system.
“I don’t care whether or not they make us money,” one employee said during the all-staff diversity and inclusion meeting. “It’s morally wrong to continue platforming a site that advocates for the fascistic oppression of all Americans but especially black people, other POCs, LGBTQ, and the disabled.”
—Robert Silverman contributed reporting.