Sun. Feb 25th, 2024

Uncertain times have come to Sports Illustrated.

Actually, they’ve been here for a while now. Changing owners, staff cuts, decreased print editions and now recent threats of mass layoffs have left the iconic sports magazine and website very much in jeopardy.

Monday, however, was a newsy day.

Let’s start with the facts: The union representing Sports Illustrated has filed suit against SI’s publisher, The Arena Group, accusing it of attempted union-busting following Arena’s notice to lay off staff, including around 80 unionized staffers.

The NewsGuild of New York and the Sports Illustrated Union put out a statement on Monday that accused Arena of “discharging employees because of their support of the union, engagement in union activities and engagement in other protected activities.”

This mess started two weeks ago when Arena notified most SI staffers that they would be laid off in 90 days. The reason reportedly was because of a complicated dispute between Authentic Brands Group, which owns the brand, and The Arena Group, which has an agreement to license the magazine’s rights. Arena missed a $3.75 million payment to Authentic, and Authentic said that violated the terms of the licensing agreement between the two.

Jamie Salter, the CEO of Authentic, told The Washington Post’s Ben Strauss at the time, “If a company doesn’t pay me, I breach.”

He then called out Manoj Bhargava, Arena’s largest shareholder and representative.

Salter said, “He’s trying to negotiate with me, and I told him to (expletive) off. He tried to change the agreement. When you sign a deal with us, you live by the deal.”

With the future of the iconic SI up in the air, the union filed a grievance against Arena.

In a statement, Susan DeCarava, president of The NewsGuild of New York, said, “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. 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.”

The NewsGuild of New York statement quoted former Arena Group CEO Ross Levinsohn, who resigned from Arena’s board late last week. In his resignation letter, Levinsohn wrote, “Today’s obliteration of Sports Illustrated’s storied newsroom and the union busting tactics is the last straw. These actions and the inaction of this board are illegal, riddled with self-dealing, and will almost certainly lead to shareholder lawsuits. In my more than 30 years inside of public and private companies, I’ve never witnessed more negligence in my career.”

SI’s website is still publishing stories, but this latest dispute has put the publication’s future in jeopardy.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Rosenberg tweeted out Strauss’ story and wrote, “Sports Illustrated is only as good as the people who produce it. Busting our union is illegal and would destroy the brand. We are fighting back. #WeAreSI”

The New York Post’s Josh Kosman reported Monday that there are at least two potential bidders for Sports Illustrated’s publishing license, including Front Office Sports, which just last year took on former CNN boss Jeff Zucker’s company as one of its backers.

Kosman wrote, “In addition to Front Office Sports — minority-owned by the ex-CNN boss’s media-focused buyout firm RedBird IMI Management — Sports Illustrated’s publishing rights could also get a bid from Minute Media, which in 2019 acquired the Player’s Tribune blog founded by Derek Jeter, sources said.”

Zucker’s RedBird IMI Management bought a minority stake in Front Office Sports — an online newsletter that covers sports media and business — back in October.

CNN announced the addition of three on-air contributors, including two with ties to The New York Times.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is now with The New York Times Magazine after a respected, award-winning career at NPR. At NPR, she covered international and domestic affairs before moving to become a host. She was at NPR for 17 years before joining the Times in 2022.

Jane Coaston is a contributing opinion writer at The New York Times with a special interest in American conservatism. Before the Times, she was a senior politics reporter at Vox. Her work also has appeared on MSNBC, ABC News, NPR, The Ringer, Buzzfeed, and The Washington Post.

Also joining CNN as a contributor will be Reihan Salam, president of the Manhattan Institute, a research and advocacy organization that advances opportunity, individual liberty and the rule of law. Salam is also a contributing writer at The Atlantic.

Again, these three will be on-air contributors for CNN, meaning they will continue doing their day jobs.

Taylor Swift, attending Sunday’s NFL playoff game in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

This is my favorite story of the day. It involves some slick reporting by The Athletic’s Alex Andrejev, who gets to the bottom of whether Taylor Swift is going to get to the Super Bowl in time.

As I’m sure you know by now — and if you don’t, you might want to get electricity and Wi-Fi for your cave — Swift’s boyfriend (Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce) will play in the Super Bowl. Swift plans to attend.

However, check this out. The Super Bowl is Feb. 11 in Las Vegas. On Feb. 10, Swift is scheduled to perform in Tokyo.

“So, can she make it?” Andrejev writes. “In short, yes. The 17-hour time difference works in her favor and means Swift could get to Las Vegas with plenty of time to spare.”

Swift, of course, will take a private jet and hope that the weather doesn’t get involved. With the time change and all, Swift can leave Saturday night from Tokyo and arrive in Las Vegas on … Saturday night, a full day before the game.

But here’s why Andrejev’s story is so good. Her reporting shows how landing in Las Vegas during Super Bowl weekend could be an issue. An unnamed account manager at a private jet company told Andrejev, “The way that I got it explained by operators is that (they) don’t have any more availability at any of the Las Vegas airports that can receive a jet, whether it’s private or whether it’s commercial.”

Swift is going to make it to the game, even if she has to fly to, say, Los Angeles and then take a car to Vegas.

But the point is, give me more of these kinds of smart and fun stories involving Swift and the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, some at Fox News are losing their minds over Taylor Swift.

Fox Sports NFL analyst Greg Olsen, shown here at an NFL game last October. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Fox Sports’ Greg Olsen has earned nothing but positive reviews for his work as the network’s top NFL analyst. He took over as Fox’s top NFL analyst after Troy Aikman left before last season to go to ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” Aikman and Joe Buck went from Fox to ESPN, and Olsen stepped up to the No. 1 team alongside Kevin Burkhardt.

But now it gets awkward. Tom Brady, generally considered the greatest quarterback in NFL history, is expected to become Fox’s top NFL analyst next season. After a legendary career that saw him win seven Super Bowls, Brady took this past season off. But next year, he will begin cashing in on a 10-year, $375 million contract to broadcast.

So when Olsen called Sunday’s NFC Championship game, it likely was his final game as Fox’s top analyst, even though he is overwhelmingly enjoyed by fans and critics, who seem to believe he does no wrong.

Could Fox work a deal where Olsen stays in the booth with Burkhardt and Brady? Possibly, but that seems unlikely. The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch suggests Olsen’s best option might be to stick it out as an analyst on Fox’s No. 2 team and wait to see if something shakes out at another network. There’s also always a chance Brady gets bored after a year or two and leaves, although there are reports he is working hard preparing for his broadcasting career.

Deitsch wrote, “It’s hard to work as a No. 2 in sports television after you have proven yourself as a No. 1. But jobs will open up in the future. If Olsen stays at Fox, it’s likely that within three to five years, he’d be back in the No. 1 NFL analyst seat.”

Meanwhile, Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy writes, “Five Burning Questions: Fox’s Tom Brady-Greg Olsen Dilemma.” That includes this quote from a Fox source: “Tom is approaching this like he approached the game. From what I gather, he isn’t just cruising on his name.”

No matter what happens, don’t feel bad for Olsen. He knew the gig before he took it, and he’s going to end up being just fine. At the very worst, he’ll be paid handsomely to call NFL games, and someday, he will once again be a No. 1 analyst at a network, calling Super Bowls and making tons of money.

One note on the NFC Championship and the San Francisco 49ers victory over the Detroit Lions: Fox reports the game drew 56.69 million viewers, making it the most-watched NFC Championship Game on Fox since 2012. It was up 19% over last year’s NFL Championship and the fourth most-watched non-Super Bowl game in Fox history.

Olsen tweeted, “Not a bad way to end!”

One more sports item. John Ourand, the longtime sports media business writer at Sports Business Journal, started his new job with Puck this week. At Puck, he will write a sports media/industry newsletter called The Varsity. (Cool name. I like it.)

Puck was founded in 2021 and covers what it calls the “four centers of power” in the United States: Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Washington and Wall Street. Ourand, one of the top sports business reporters in the country, will give Puck a sports arm.

Jon Kelly, one of the founders of Puck, wrote subscribers to say, “Why is Puck moving into the business of sports? It’s a natural extension for us in so many ways. The rise of the professional sporting industry, after all, mirrors the ascent of media in American culture.”

For the Columbia Journalism Review, Cameron Joseph with “The Death of the Washington Bureau.” CNN’s Marshall Cohen with “Pro-Trump network OAN execs may have ‘engaged in criminal activities’ while promoting 2020 election lies, Smartmatic alleges.” For Texas Monthly, Michael Hardy with “Austin’s Daily Newspaper Is Being Starved to Death.” Variety’s Brian Steinberg with “Can Don Lemon, Megyn Kelly and Tucker Carlson Really Steal Viewers From TV News?” Want to see a good interview of a politician where the interviewer brings the receipts? Check this out. It’s CBS News Miami’s Jim DeFede challenging Florida Republican Congresswoman Maria Salazar. As I mentioned in Monday’s newsletter, my former colleague Martin Fennelly, longtime sports columnist at the Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times, passed away last week from a heart attack. He was 65. Times sports columnist John Romano has a lovely tribute in “The words and life of Martin Fennelly were a gift to all in Tampa Bay.” Former CBS late-night host James Corden stopped by NBC’s “Today” show to talk about his decision to leave late-night, and what he misses and doesn’t miss. For the abbreviated version, Lauren Sarner wrote about it for the New York Post. A few days old, but still fresh. The New York Times’ Ryan Mac, Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson with “Los Angeles Times Owner Clashed With Top Editor Over Unpublished Article.”

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.

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