Sports Illustrated publisher threatens to kill print edition in battle to regain license: sources

Sports Illustrated’s erstwhile publisher on Thursday threatened to kill the print edition of the famed magazine after reports surfaced that the company that owns the license is leaning toward awarding it to a rival, The Post has learned.

The Arena Group, which had its license revoked in January by Authentic Brands after refusing to make a $3.75 million quarterly payment, held a meeting to tell the already shaken staff that the May issue would be its last, multiple sources told The Post.

The move comes as Manoj Bhargava, the 5-hour Energy founder and Arena’s largest shareholder, seeks to renegotiate the three years left on the original 10-year, $150 million deal with Authentic owner Jamie Salter.

Sports Illustrated’s publisher told its staff today that May will be its last issue. Alamy Stock Photo
Manoj Bhargava, Arena’s largest shareholder, seeks to renegotiate the three years left on the original 10-year, $150 million deal. Str/EPA/Shutterstock

Arena, which had warned that it will fire SI’s entire staff if it doesn’t regain the license, is on the hook for a $45 million termination fee.

“This is Manoj saying if you are not giving it to us, we are going to screw you,” a source close to the situation said. “I think Manoj may know they are not getting the license.”

Bhargava’s saber-rattling about ceasing publication of a magazine that has been on newsstands for 70 years didn’t seem to faze Salter.

“Authentic will ensure print publication,” a source close to Salter told The Post.

Bhargava, left and Authentic Brands owner Jamie Salter

Arena has been publishing the magazine and the SI website while seeking to strike a new deal with Authentic.

Bhargava’s ultimatum came after Salter indicated he may be ready to hand over the license to Minute Media, which publishes The Players’ Tribune, according to Front Office Sports.

The deal would reportedly split off the celebrated Swimsuit issue from the rest of the publication.

Salter plans to make a final decision by the end of the month, the outlet said.

Bhargava may be suspending print publication as a bargaining chip so it can win license renewal. Sports Illustrated girls Camille Kostek, Christen Harper and Nicole Williams English, above. Getty Images for SiriusXM

SI puts out 12 annual issues, along with a handful of commemorative editions, and had roughly 65,000 subscribers in 2023, according to The Alliance for Audited Media.

In its heyday, the crown jewel of sports journalism had a circulation of around 3 million — a week.

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