More than a year after putting Sports Illustrated up for sale, Meredith Corp. has agreed to sell the sports magazine brand to licensing and brand development company Authentic Brands Group for $110 million.
The sale doesn’t mean that Meredith Corp. will rid itself of Sports Illustrated entirely; ABG will not assume control over the Sports Illustrated’s editorial products for at least another two years. Instead, Meredith Corp. will pay ABG a licensing fee to continue operating the print magazine product and SI.com. Terms of that licensing agreement were not disclosed.
ABG, which owns brands like Nine West and Juicy Couture, will aim to leverage Sports Illustrated’s brand into new licensing deals, which might include live programming and original content in the nascent area of esports and sports gambling. The licensing company will assume control of the marketing, business development, e-commerce and licensing functions for all of Sports Illustrated and its sub-brands, which include Sportsperson of the Year, Sports Illustrated Kids and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit.
The company may also license Sports Illustrated’s photography archive containing more than 2 million images, according to a statement.
“As one of the most iconic brands in sports media, SI is a cultural centerpiece with massive opportunities for growth across its burgeoning digital, TV and social platforms and industry-leading print magazine,” ABG founder, chairman and CEO Jamie Salter said in a statement about the deal. “SI’s trusted name and fiercely devoted following set the stage for the brand to become a leader in lifestyle and entertainment.”
The sale does not include FanSided, a network of more than 300 sites divided up by sports teams or television shows and devoted to those teams’ or shows’ fans. That property, which Meredith Corp. acquired in 2015, is still up for sale.
In a memo to Sports Illustrated staff, editor in chief Chris Stone pointed to opportunities the new ownership provides in events; long-form video and audio; and gambling and gaming. He emphasized that Sports Illustrated would remain editorially independent and rigorous with the new owners.
“ABG is committed not just to ensuring that the quality of the magazine, website and video properties, but to the editorial independence under the current management team of Sports Illustrated as well,” Stone wrote.
The deal comes a little more than a year after Meredith Corp., with help from the billionaire Koch brothers, purchased Time Inc. and subsequently put legacy titles like Sports Illustrated, Time, Fortune and Money up for sale. Salesforce founder Marc Benioff acquired Time magazine in September for $190 million. Two months later, a holding company owned by Thai businessman Chatchaval Jiaravanon struck a deal to buy Fortune for $150 million.
In a statement about the sale, Meredith Corp. said it would use proceeds to pay down debt. The company expects to pay down approximately $900 million in debt by the end of next month, and it expects to pay down another $100 million more after selling both FanSided and the advertising platform Viant.