Sports Illustrated was hit with layoffs Monday, its publisher announced, in the wake of the sports shutdown and overall economic slowdown caused by the novel coronavirus. Six percent of SI’s editorial staff will be let go, the publisher said.
In a memo sent to staff, Maven chief executive James Heckman wrote that because of dramatic reductions in ad revenue and digital traffic, the company predicted a $30 million reduction in revenue for 2020. “During this accelerated transformation, we must manage our operating budget with care,” he wrote.
Among those laid off at SI are editor and writer Jack Dickey, who tweeted the news. According to one Sports Illustrated staffer, at least six editorial employees were part of the cutbacks, as well as at least one business-side employee. In an all-hands call, Heckman noted that the unprecedented cancellation of sports due to the global pandemic could not have been foreseen.
Staffers acknowledged that that was true, though several said they were confused why the company couldn’t implement pay cuts, as BuzzFeed did recently, or furloughs, which newspaper chain owner Gannett announced Monday. Other employees expressed concern about how the remaining staff would be able to continue producing the monthly print magazine. One also noted that the company was in union negotiations and that the organizing committee received no warning about the layoffs from management. Another said three female staffers were part of the editorial cuts, leaving a predominantly male newsroom with less diversity.
The blow is the latest for a reeling media brand that for decades was the standard-bearer for sports journalism. Maven, a digital platform that publishes SI, Jim Cramer’s financial publication The Street, and a constellation of other websites, purchased the publishing rights to SI last year. As part of the deal with magazine publisher Meredith Corp., around 40 editorial staffers – roughly a third of the staff – were laid off.
Staffers across Maven’s network have been wary of Maven’s management and underlying financial health. Last month, the company’s monthly checks to its nationwide network of contract writers were issued late, and several of those writers worried about how the sports hiatus would affect them. Presented with those concerns by The Washington Post last week, Heckman described them as “pretty silly” in an email. “We are a $150 million business, continue to forecast a profitable year and our traffic continues to scale up,” he wrote then.
Sports Illustrated was not the only sports publication to feel the pain of no games and to announce cutbacks. The popular and wonky baseball website FanGraphs announced Monday morning that without the baseball season, its traffic had fallen dramatically, as has ad revenue. The site suspended publication of another website under its management, The Hardball Times, laid off all contributors and asked for donations to help maintain the site and the jobs of the 10 full-time staff members.
“Starting March 12, after the announcement that Opening Day would be postponed, we have seen a steep decline in our site traffic that has lead to a correspondingly dramatic decline in revenue,” chief executive and founder David Appleman wrote in an open letter. “We are a small business. We rely on the revenue generated by site traffic.”
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