The big sports media news early this week comes in the $110 million sale of Sports Illustrated.
The actual ownership is less interesting - one anonymous multimedia brand conglomerate to another. But the reasoning is interesting. From Brian Steinberg’s report in Variety:
“Sports Illustrated is not just a magazine. It’s really a platform and it really stands for something that is hard – when you’re building brands – to get: It has authenticity. It has authority. It has respect,” says Jamie Salter, founder, chairman and CEO of Authentic Brands
In a wide-ranging discussion, Salter envisioned possibilities ranging from Sports Illustrated medical clinics and sports-skills training classes to a gambling business and better use of the magazine’s vast photo library.
In other words, the value of Sports Illustrated comes not from the army of incredibly talented hard working reporters and editors at the magazine. It comes not from the reporting, the journalism, the commentary.
The value is in the name.
All that matters about Sports Illustrated right now is its name and its reputation. Its brand.
It’s sad for all of us who grew up idolizing the magazine, dreaming of writing for it some day. It’s sad when you realize the journalistic home of Frank Deford, Gary Smith, Rick Reilly and countless, countless others now only has value because of its something that sounds like a bad post on LinkedIn.
But it’s the sad reality of the media world. The digital age has been hell on magazines, and it’s been hardest on weekly news magazines. These publications are artifacts of the mass media age, and don’t really fit into the modern world. The longform reporting and great writing is still vital, but the front-of-book features, the weekly coverage of the big events, those are less relevant. We’ve already read all these stories and tidbits online by the time the magazine comes out. And SI’s website has been a case study in unfriendly design for years.
Last year, when SI was first sold, I wrote about how it was primarily a symbolic structure. These words hold a bit truer today:
The print edition of Sports Illustrated is no longer vital in the sports journalism world. We have ESPN for scores and daily writing, we have local newspapers just a search bar away, we have The Ringer filling the space for feature writing. Increasingly, The Athletic is serving the role SI once did. But Sports Illustrated still matters. Why? In a large part, not because of what it actually is but because of what it represents. Because of what it was, because of what it meant to all of us. Because it was the vessel for all of our dreams and aspirations. Because Sports Illustrated is a symbolic structure.
In other words, the value is in the name.