Sports Illustrated, the brand, is sold for $110 million

Marc Tracy, The New York Times

Posted at May 28 2019 12:41 PM | Updated as of May 28 2019 02:42 PM

The intellectual property of Sports Illustrated, the magazine whose monumental covers and narrative voices have helped define American sports since its debut 65 years ago, has been sold for $110 million to Authentic Brands Group, in an unusual transaction that suggests the magazine’s most coveted asset is its brand.

The previous owner, Meredith, and the buyer, Authentic Brands Group, announced the completed sale Monday night. Under its terms, Meredith will continue to run Sports Illustrated’s biweekly magazine and website, paying Authentic Brands an undisclosed licensing fee for at least two years.

What Authentic Brands immediately bought was not the magazine itself but rather Sports Illustrated’s valuable intellectual property. The purchase covers the magazine’s trove of more than 2 million images, its swimsuit and Sportsperson of the Year brands, the instantly recognizable name itself and other assets.

A news release indicated that Authentic Brands, a licensing company that owns the brands of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley and clothing retailers such as Juicy Couture, will make money off these properties through live events, e-sports and sports gambling, among other things.

The companies billed the deal as a “strategic partnership.”

“As a trailblazer and cultural phenomenon, Sports Illustrated has created moments and experiences for its readers that are unmatched by any other sports brand,” Nick Woodhouse, president and chief marketing officer of Authentic Brands, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Meredith to extend Sports Illustrated’s legacy and connect the brand with new audiences around the world.”

Sports Illustrated’s editor-in-chief, Chris Stone, emphasized in a statement that Authentic Brands and Meredith were committed to continuing to support the magazine and website editorially. (FanSided, a sports-focused network of websites owned by Meredith, was not part of the deal, and Meredith is “currently in the process of selling” it, the statement said.)

“This deal only made sense if we continue to generate premium journalism and storytelling,” Stone said in a memo to staff.

Meredith had acquired Sports Illustrated when it bought Time Inc. for $2.8 billion last year.

For decades the titan of sports journalism, Sports Illustrated struggled in recent years to meet the imperatives of the web and deal with the downsides of ink and paper. Meredith, based in Des Moines, Iowa, told employees more than year ago that it was likely to sell Sports Illustrated along with Time, Fortune and Money, while holding on to lifestyle publications like Allrecipes and Better Homes and Gardens.

Time was sold to Marc Benioff, the chief executive of the software company Salesforce, and Fortune to Chatchaval Jiaravanon, whose family controls one of Thailand’s largest companies. Meredith has announced that it is ending Money’s print edition.

2019 New York Times News Service