Ross Levinsohn, now with Maven, to manage Sports Illustrated magazine
Sports Illustrated, the pioneering publication that helped define sports journalism, once again is under new management.
Ross Levinsohn, a former Fox digital and Yahoo executive who steered the Los Angeles Times into a tumultuous era, was named chief executive of Sports Illustrated.
The move was announced Monday as part of a licensing agreement with Authentic Brands Group, which just three weeks ago acquired the 65-year-old magazine for about $110 million from Iowa publishing giant Meredith Corp.
Levinsohn, 55, now is affiliated with the Maven Inc., a small Seattle-based digital publishing firm, which entered into the licensing arrangement to run Sports Illustrated in collaboration with the magazine’s new owner, Authentic Brands, according to a regulatory filing Monday. Levinsohn’s longtime business associate, Jim Heckman, is chief executive of Maven.
Maven agreed to pay Authentic Brands annual royalties for use of the Sports Illustrated properties in seven countries — the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
Maven paid Authentic Brands $45 million in advance royalties as part of the deal, which runs through 2029. Maven will be responsible for operating the digital and print editions of Sports Illustrated, which is based in New York and reaches 2.7 million subscribers. The firm also has rights to exploit the popular Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition and launch channels, video sites and special issues tied to the well-known brand.
The two companies will share revenues, and they agreed to work together to build Sports Illustrated. Authentic Brands is a New York brand management firm with rights to big-name celebrities Muhammad Ali, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, and brands including Thomasville furniture, Frye boots and Frederick’s of Hollywood.
The revolving door at the once premier sports outlet illustrates the headwinds facing magazines that have long relied on advertising and print subscriptions. Sports Illustrated was once the dominant sports-themed publication in the U.S. and a marquee title within the Time Inc. magazine portfolio. Magazine magnate Henry Luce, co-founder of Time, brought Sports Illustrated to life in 1954.
In the past, a photo on the cover of Sports Illustrated was an honor reserved for the most elite athletes, including Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Tiger Woods and Venus Williams. But now, the magazine competes with scrappy rivals such as USA Today, ESPN, the Bleacher Report, Los Angeles Times and the subscription-based online site the Athletic.
Time was sold to Meredith in early 2018 after Time fell on hard times. The publishing company, which was spun from its former parent Time Warner, found it increasingly difficult to survive amid a steep falloff in print advertising. Online ads failed to make up the difference.
Meredith, which publishes Family Circle and Better Homes & Gardens, was primarily interested in holding onto Time’s celebrity-themed titles, such as People and Entertainment Weekly. Meredith already has sold Time magazine, Fortune and now Sports Illustrated.
It will be up to Levinsohn to reinvigorate Sports Illustrated.
Levinsohn, a former Fox Sports executive, was publisher of The Times for just five months. He was pushed out amid a newsroom revolt that hastened the sale of the paper to Los Angeles biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong.
The paper’s former parent company, Tribune Publishing, removed Levinsohn as The Times’ publisher in January 2018 after National Public Radio reported that he was a defendant in two sexual harassment lawsuits. The controversy occurred when The Times was aggressively reporting on the #MeToo movement. A subsequent inquiry found no misconduct during his brief tenure at The Times.
Levinsohn left the paper’s then-parent Tribune Publishing (previously known as Tronc) last year when his job was eliminated.
He was not available Monday for comment.
Levinsohn ran Yahoo on an interim basis in 2012 and attempted to build its advertising business at a time when revenue growth stalled. He was passed over for the top job. Levinsohn was previously in charge of one of the original social networks, MySpace, which peaked around 2008. He joined Rupert Murdoch’s company in 2000 after working at CBS SportsLine and search engine AltaVista. His first job for Murdoch was managing Foxsports.com.
Now he is affiliated with Maven, a publicly traded firm that is cobbling together a patchwork of independent publishing sites.
Last week, Maven acquired the publicly traded business news site, the Street, for $16.5 million. The site is affiliated with CNBC personality Jim Cramer. Maven said its other titles include History, Maxim, Yoga Journal and Ski Magazine.
Levinsohn and Heckman previously worked together on a sports publishing business called Scout Media.
“The terms of Mr. Levinsohn’s employment will be disclosed separately,” Maven said in its regulatory filing.
The Maven-Authentic Brands deal comes just three weeks after Meredith, which had been eager to unload Sports Illustrated, agreed to manage Sports Illustrated assets for up to two years. But Authentic Brands’ partnership with Maven brought Meredith’s tenure to an abrupt end.
“The Sports Illustrated sales process took much longer than the sales of Time and Fortune,” Meredith said in a statement Monday. “Meredith can devote full resources and management attention to maximizing the profitability of the rest of its portfolio of leading media brands.”
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