Among those laid off at SI were longtime senior writer Chris Ballard and editor and writer Jack Dickey. 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 amid the global pandemic could not have been foreseen.
Staffers acknowledged 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, with only a handful of editors, would be able to continue producing the monthly print magazine. One also noted that the company was in union negotiations and the organizing committee received no warning about layoffs from management. Another said three female staffers were part of the editorial cuts, leaving a predominantly male newsroom with even 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 Corporation, around 40 editorial staffers — roughly a third of the staff — were laid off.
Staffers across Maven’s network have also 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 announce cutbacks. Popular and wonky baseball website FanGraphs announced Monday that without the baseball season, its traffic has 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 led to a correspondingly dramatic decline in revenue,” CEO 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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