It has been about two weeks since Sports Illustrated laid off its staff. There has been little if any reporting on any sort of progress in the corporate negotiations that might give some sort of reprieve to the magazine, but even if there is sub rosa progress on such talks, I suspect that any “reprieve” would be temporary at best. I think there are two barriers in place that will prevent SI from survival in 2024 and beyond:
- The first is reassembling a competent staff. I am not here to play the crotchety old-guy and proclaim that there will never be another confluence of writing talent to equal what SI had in the 60s, 70s and 80s. I mean that any sort of resurrected SI would remain on sufficiently thin financial ice as to be unable to attract and retain the best sports writers/commentators of today. Staff quality is particularly important to a resurrected SI, given the scandal of its using AI generated articles by fictitious authors in previous editions; trust must be restored. Writing about sports is enjoyable and maybe even luxurious; I resemble that remark. At the same time, writers need to be able to survive economically, and counting on a reincarnated SI as the source of “funding” would be a huge gamble.
- The second is that print journalism in general – – not just in sports – – is an industry with declining revenues. The LA Times is laying off lots of folks; reports say that the Washington Post may have lost $100M last year; the NY Times laid off – – or reassigned – – its entire sports staff. Until and unless market forces change, this is a death spiral. Revenues go down, writers are laid off, the product declines in quality, revenues go down further…
Observers have offered various explanations for the demise of what was once a great journalism franchise. I don’t know enough to do a deep dive into all of this, but I do think that two of the more common explanations are shallow:
- Some folks believe that the demise of SI is another example of “Go Woke, Go Broke.” Yes, the magazine put a transgender woman on the cover of a Swimsuit Issue, and I am sure it angered more “existing readers” than it attracted as “new subscribers”. But I doubt that is the reason since SI had been in severe pruning mode for at least 5 years prior to that “Woke” action.
- Other folks believe that the Internet killed SI because the folks running the magazine never figured out how to generate meaningful revenues from online readership. If that is the reason, then the financial people at SI must not have been able to figure out the successful survival strategies that keep other magazines alive and well such as The Atlantic and/or The Economist.
I recognize that many folks today prefer to consume news and entertainment media ‘on their devices”. Personally, I prefer a three-dimensional newspaper or magazine for lengthy consumption and electronic media for shorter engagements, but my preferences do not set a marketplace. If some sort of financial construct can emerge that gives SI new life, the challenge for the managers there will be to hit the ground with a quality product that attracts print AND online revenues. It can be done; the folks who ran and who now own SI have never figured out how to do this. And I think the first thing on their plate has to be that the new financial model must support a publication that is weekly and not monthly.
And now for something completely different … [Hat Tip to John Cleese] Every year in England they have a sporting tournament known as the FA Cup. This year, 732 different soccer clubs entered the tournament; some of the entrants were professional clubs in the various tiers of soccer in England; some of the teams were amateur entrants; it seems that the only criterion for entry is that the club is located in either England or Wales.
Maidstone United is described as a “sixth-tier side”. As an analogy to US college basketball, Maidstone United would be a solid favorite over a recreation league champion but would likely be overmatched against the worst of the 350-or-so Division 1 College basketball teams. Nevertheless, Maidstone United won its first four games in the tournament to get to last weekend’s challenge against Ipswich Town. On paper, this should have been the end of the line for Maidstone United; Ipswich Town is in second place in the English Championship meaning that it is on the verge of being promoted to the Premier League next year. In its last 5 games against Championship level competition, Ipswich town has a victory and 4 draws. At the same time, Maidstone United was in fourth place in its “sixth-tier league” and had lost its previous three games in that league against competition at that level.
But that is why the play the games … At the end – – or “after full time” as they say in England – – the result was:
- Maidstone United 2 Ipswich Town 1.
That result advances Maidstone United to the FA Cup’s version of the “Sweet 16”. Their next opponent will be either Sheffield Wednesday or Coventry City depending on the outcome of that match on 6 February. As of this morning, both Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City are Championship League teams, as is Ipswich Town.
- Coventry City is currently in 6th place in the Championship having won 4 and tied once in its last 5 games at that level.
- Sheffield Wednesday is currently in 23rd place in the Championship – – and is currently in the “Relegation Zone” – – having won 2 and lost 3 in its last 5 games at that level.
Maidstone United is known as “The Stones”. Stones on the road ahead can either be obstacles or steppingstones. So far, “The Stones” have been using them as steppingstones.
Finally, since I began today ruminating on the demise of Sports Illustrated let me close with these words from Frank Deford:
“I grew up in Baltimore and that’s why I root for the Orioles. I’m very suspicious of people who move and take on a new team. You should stick with the team of your youth all the way to your grave. That shows a sense of loyalty and devotion.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………