Sports Illustrated CEO Ross Levinsohn Takes Positive Action to Realign the Sports Illustrated Brand
The most trusted brand in sports journalism, Sports Illustrated, and its CEO, Ross Levinsohn, has stood as the gold standard for coverage of famous athletes and live sporting events. Over the course of nearly 70 years, Sports Illustrated stories have catalogued the upward (and sometimes downward) trajectories of sports, its stars, and its most notorious characters.
Over the past several years, through three owners, Sports Illustrated has faced its own financial and marketplace challenges. However, this iconic sporting industry publication is now on the upswing thanks to new ownership and an infusion of strategy, technical improvements, and financial resources.
The company now has a senior management team and CEO steeped in operating traditional and digital media businesses, having navigated turnarounds and reset strategies for companies on a global scale. At the helm is Ross Levinsohn who is carefully navigating this storied brand and is taking bold action to position Sports Illustrated for growth.
New Ownership Lays the Groundwork for Expansion
The Authentic Brands Group (ABG), a global brand development and marketing firm, laid the groundwork for Sports Illustrated’s turnaround. In May 2019, the company purchased the well-regarded brand from Meredith, its owner at that time.
Although Sports Illustrated’s stellar editorial history played a role in the acquisition, ABG also recognized that substantial revenues could be realized from Sports Illustrated-linked licensing deals. The most promising opportunities included brand-related e-sports and gambling contracts.
As Sports Illustrated’s evolution continued, additional pieces of the puzzle fell into place. In June 2019, digital publishing firm Maven paid ABG $45 million upfront for the right to oversee all Sports Illustrated editorial, digital, and magazine operations.
In August 2020, Maven put the final puzzle piece into place. The company announced the appointment of media veteran Ross Levinsohn as its chief executive officer. Levinsohn, who was already serving as the Sports Illustrated CEO, continues to fulfill both roles as of July 2021.
Since Ross Levinsohn took the helm of Maven in August 2020, the company has raised more than $40 million in new financing and designated these financial resources for support of Sports Illustrated and other Maven-owned brands.
Sports Illustrated Shows an Upward Trend
ABG’s 2019 Sports Illustrated acquisition set the stage for the publication’s turnaround. In 2021, Marc Rosen, ABG’s executive vice president of entertainment, stated that the publication has begun to be profitable again.
To illustrate, the Sports Illustrated earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (or EBITDA) have more than doubled since ABG’s May 2019 acquisition according to Rosen. This impressive figure is right in line with the company’s predictions.
Sports Illustrated’s online readership has also seen substantial growth. In January 2021, SI.com received more than 38 million online viewers, representing the site’s largest monthly online viewership to date, and since has grown to more than 50 million monthly users across all platforms
Enhanced Editorial Operations Resources
To enhance Sports Illustrated’s status as a valued news source, CEO Ross Levinsohn has approved numerous editorial personnel investments. Specifically, he supports the hiring of additional top professional sports journalists and support staff.
Besides delivering premium written content, the beefed-up editorial team will continue to turn out professional-quality photographs. Targeted podcasts and videos will also be in the mix.
Diversified Revenue Sources
Expanding a company’s revenue sources is a time-tested way to drive business growth. Sports Illustrated CEO Ross Levinsohn has recently put two new revenue generation strategies in motion.
Targeted Website Acquisitions
Maven, the Sports Illustrated media management firm, is actively involved in purchasing websites that have built loyal, engaged audiences. To put this strategy into effect, the company has firmed up $20 million in equity financing from institutional investors.
One of Maven’s first acquisitions, TheSpun, is a New Jersey-based sporting news website with nearly 15 million monthly readers. In a Forbes phone interview, Maven CEO Ross Levinsohn stated that this rapidly growing digital company would complement the Sports Illustrated brand. During TheSpun’s integration into the Sports Illustrated platform, the property will essentially keep its operating structure intact.
Levinsohn signaled that Maven was poised to engage in more targeted digital property acquisitions. “We have some pretty big ambitions,” Levinsohn noted. “We really look for assets that can fit into and expand an existing vertical for us, or start a new one,” he concluded.
Premium Content Paywall
In early 2021, the Sports Illustrated website put a premium content paywall in place. The move was designed to generate additional revenue and deliver higher-quality content to subscribers. Many sports media publications, along with major newspapers’ online editions, have installed similar paywalls in recent years.
Once on the Sports Illustrated platform, readers will encounter a “metered paywall” that enables them to view five free “premium” articles each month. Once a reader accesses the fifth piece of content, they must purchase a subscription to continue accessing content.
Currently, a Sports Illustrated digital subscription costs $5.99 per month. Alternatively, readers can select an annual $69.99 subscription that includes digital access along with the print magazine, now published 16 times per year.
Digital Subscription Benefits
Sports Illustrated digital subscribers will enjoy subscriber-only articles from top writers. Subscribers will also receive members-only newsletters and specialty photographic features.
Digital subscribers also receive carte blanche access to the Sports Illustrated Archives. This highly valued “virtual vault” contains award-winning articles and highly acclaimed photo galleries and magazine covers.
Readers who decline the subscription offer will still be able to access breaking online news stories. The publication’s “FanNation” team-focused websites will also be available at no cost. Finally, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit franchise offerings, which are managed separately, will continue to be available free of charge.
Mutually Beneficial Partnerships
To further enhance the Sports Illustrated brand and increase its value proposition to readers, the publication has begun to form mutually beneficial partnerships with targeted companies. Although some of these collaborations pertain to content offerings, others relate to sports-related experiences.
Multiple Targeted Sports Verticals
Sports Illustrated will partner with selected brands that have cultivated loyal audiences in specific sports verticals. To illustrate, the publication has formed an editorial partnership with the well-regarded online golf publication Morning Read.
Morning Read is known for its well-written golf content that draws a growing audience of golfing pros and avid golfing fans. Features include professional tour reports, instruction and equipment profiles, and fitness regimens designed to enhance readers’ golf games. Golf-related travel opportunities are also popular with readers.
Besides Morning Read’s high-quality written content, the brand offers the Morning Read Podcast Network that presents more than 20 original programs. The MR.TV video network offers more than a dozen golf-related video series that explore varied facets of this enduringly popular sport.
Online Sports Betting Opportunities
Sports Illustrated readers will soon have online sports betting and gambling opportunities at their fingertips. Authentic Brands Group, owner of the Sports Illustrated brand, has formed a partnership with 888 Holdings to create the SI Sportsbook. This iGaming and sports gambling company will launch in Colorado in the latter half of 2021.
The Sports Illustrated platform will host SI Sportsbook, which will feature a full slate of online sports betting and gambling offerings. Readers will also be treated to high-quality targeted content. To complement the upcoming SI Sportsbook launch, Sports Illustrated’s August 2021 issue will explore varied gambling themes.
Video Technology and Monetization
Thanks to a June 2021 partnership with Veritone, Sports Illustrated is poised to monetize the publication’s expansive video offerings. Containing 1.6 petabytes of data, the Sports Illustrated video archive dates back to 1954.
The vast video repository includes live sporting event footage plus documentary and interview content related to notable athletes and sporting world personalities. Swimsuit models, celebrities, and politicians have also made appearances over the years.
Veritone’s AI-enabled Digital Media Hub will format the video content for inclusion in a searchable video database. Veritone will enhance each listing with metadata, enabling more efficient search results. When the database goes live, content owners and Sports Illustrated editors can quickly access media assets for targeted use.
About Ross Levinsohn
Ross Levinsohn, who serves as the Sports Illustrated and Maven CEO, is a multifaceted digital publishing executive with a 35-year record of achievements. He brings extensive publishing, media, and technology expertise to his two roles.
Levinsohn’s career preparation began at American University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in communications. From there, he developed a thorough understanding of the increasingly important role of digital media and related technology.
During his career, Ross Levinsohn has performed executive oversight functions at several top-tier media companies. He previously served as Interim CEO of Yahoo and Head of Global Media; Guggenheim Digital Media’s CEO and Fox Interactive Media’s president. While at these diversified media corporations, he utilized his technology and marketing expertise to showcase each company’s digital brands.
Ross Levinsohn also managed Tribune Publishing’s digital component. He provided oversight to well-regarded publications like the Chicago Tribune, the Orlando Sentinel, and the New York Daily News.
In addition to his corporate oversight functions, Ross Levinsohn has performed extensive media consulting work. During the past decade, his investments and advisory services contributed to the growth of more than 30 emerging businesses.
About Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated magazine has long been an integral part of worldwide sports history. Founded in 1954 under Time magazine’s Henry Luce, the publication began to gain popularity under managing editor Andre Laguerre, who assumed the role in 1960.
Under Laguerre’s oversight, Sports Illustrated shifted its focus to elite sporting events. This bold strategy attracted many new readers and generated impressive revenues for the magazine.
During almost 70 years of publication, Sports Illustrated’s hallmark has been its superb sports journalism and top-tier professional photography. On many occasions, the magazine’s journalists have gained unprecedented access to professional athletes and sports teams. Sports Illustrated’s well-crafted articles have earned the publication several National Magazine Awards.
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has gained an impressive following of its own. Each year, this popular edition features a different lineup of lithe fashion models, high-achieving competitive athletes, and popular celebrities.
Maven Coalition Inc. (known as Maven) is a Seattle-based umbrella media organization with a nationwide reach. Maven furnishes logistical and financial support to more than 300 digital publishing businesses and independent content providers.
Led by CEO Ross Levinsohn, Maven’s operational economies of scale and superb technological support provide each coalition member with important competitive advantages. Therefore, individual creators and small companies can step onto the same playing field as large media corporations.
Maven’s well-crafted content distribution framework enables coalition members to distribute their content to targeted audiences. In addition, Maven’s impressive buying power facilitates members’ purchase of major brand advertising packages at attractive rates.
Finally, Maven provides coalition members with a workable financial structure that helps them stay viable in an evolving business environment. Collectively, Maven’s suite of services enables members to position themselves for success within a highly competitive landscape.