With demand surging for sports-themed films and TV series, Authentic Brands Group and David Glasser’s 101 Studios have launched Sports Illustrated Studios, an exclusive home for film and TV adaptations of the magazine’s work.
Plans call for several scripted or unscripted feature films and TV series per year, as well as podcasts. Their basis will be the magazine’s “unique looks at the culture and characters that transcend the game,” in the words of the official announcement. In charge of all production, distribution and marketing for Sports Illustrated Studios will be 101 Studios, which Glasser started after leaving his longtime post at the Weinstein Company.
First out of the gate will be Covers, an episodic look at SI’s top cover stories of all time, culled from a roster of thousands involving a host of sports figures, teams, celebrities and political figures.
“Sports Illustrated has covered every major story in sports since the 1950s and, before the Internet, they were often the only publication covering the most famous and memorable stories in depth,” Glasser said. “Through this new partnership, we have the chance to bring these archival and current stories to life in ways people have never seen before.”
Authentic CEO Jamie Salter called the launch of the studio a “key building block for the future of Sports Illustrated and ABG.” Glasser told Deadline that the range of projects and platforms is vast, with articles potentially fueling everything from Quibi series to studio movies in the mold of The Blind Side.
In an interview with Deadline, Salter dismissed the notion that the sports sector is getting crowded. ESPN, WarnerMedia and a host of other contenders have been seeking to draw longer-form programming from the realm of sports. Quality, he said, will ultimately prevail.
“ESPN just did a great piece on Michael Jordan,” Salter said, referring to The Last Dance, the 10-part docuseries whose first six episodes have averaged nearly six million viewers. “You have 300 of those stories inside SI, if not more. If David and his team put out great work, great work gets to the top of the funnel so fast now.”
The new venture comes at a time when Sports Illustrated and other standard-bearers of the 20th century magazine business are at a crossroads. Founded in 1954, SI long operated as a marquee brand of Time Inc. and for decades led the sports discourse with feature stories by Frank Deford, Dan Jenkins and generations of writers who succeeded them. Longtime pressure on print ad revenue and the squeeze on digital by giants Facebook and Google have posed challenges to traditional magazine brands. Meredith Corp. bought Time Inc. for $1.8 billion in 2018 and then sold off SI and other major titles like Time, Fortune and SI.
Authentic Brands bought the magazine in 2019 and then licensed rights to publish in print and digital to a third-party firm, Maven Media. Soon afterward, Maven unsettled staffers and media watchers with a series of moves, implementing cost-cuts, allowing less-experienced third-party contributors to cover games and publicly criticizing the productivity of some staffers.
“We are watching every move very closely and what Maven has been doing,” Salter said. “We’re making sure that some of the moves that they did want to make we are blocking and not allowing them to make. … Having certain writers, certain journalists, who don’t write a story every five minutes but who focus on those long-form stories that take a long time to write is incredibly important to the legacy of Sports Illustrated.” Over the next six months, Salter added, “what we have done is going to help those stories continue.”
Ross Levinsohn, CEO of Sports Illustrated Media, did not speak with Deadline but affirmed in the press release that the magazine’s legacy “has been built on phenomenal reporting and writing,” adding that those qualities will be “further enlivened” by the new studio. “Now is the perfect time to expand SI further into film and television with content that thrills and engages both sports fans and general audiences,” he said.
Michele Newman from 101 Studios and Aerin Snow and Leif Cervantes de Reinstein from Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton handled the deal for 101 Studios. Corey Salter, Marc Rosen and Colin Smeeton represented ABG.
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