Sports Illustrated’s media operations are getting a new operator.
Authentic Brands Group — a licensing firm headed by Jamie Salter that acquired the venerable brand late last month from Meredith Corp. for $110 million — has turned around and licensed SI’s print and digital publishing rights to The Maven, a small publicly traded startup.
Under the original sale agreement announced on May 27, Meredith was going to continue publishing the print and digital media under a two-year licensing deal. Sources said the deal required Meredith to pay between $10 million to $15 million a year to ABG for the publishing rights.
Under terms of the latest deal, revealed in an SEC filing on Monday, The Maven has prepaid $45 million to ABG against future royalties under a 10-year licensing agreement with guaranteed yearly minimum royalty payments.
“Meredith only had a short-term license deal,” ABG Chief Executive Jamie Salter told The Post. “Now, we have a long-term partner.”
The license includes rights to the print version of Sports Illustrated—which appears every other week—as well as the annual SI Swimsuit issue and SI for Kids and the related digital properties.
Ross Levinsohn, most recently CEO of Tribune Interactive, a part of Tribune Publishing which owns the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News, will be joining The Maven as the CEO of the Sports Illustrated media line.
Headed by digital entrepreneur Jim Heckman, The Maven has lately been on the prowl for acquisitions. Only last week, it purchased Jim Cramer’s financial news site The Street for $16.5 million.
And last month, The Maven had been backing retired NBA star Junior Bridgeman’s bid to buy Sports Illustrated, but lost out on its chance to take over the whole operation when Bridgeman himself could not produce his portion of the financing to close the deal, sources said. ABG swooped in at the eleventh hour to land the deal instead.
Levinsohn and Heckman had partnered on a number of media ventures in the past including at Yahoo where Levinsohn was an acting CEO and Heckman was an SVP in charge of media strategy and at Fox Interactive, where Levinsohn was president. [At the time, Fox was part of News Corp. which is the parent company of the NY Post]
In a statement, Meredith said the deal will allow it to “devote full resources and management attention to maximizing the profitability of the rest of its portfolio of leading media brands,” which include People, Entertainment Weekly, Food + Wine and Travel + Leisure and Martha Stewart Living.
Maven and ABG are pursuing discussions with Meredith for it to continue to operate certain aspects of the business, including print operations. However, Monday’s deal is not contingent on reaching such an agreement with Meredith, according to the SEC filing.
Under the deal, ABG also gets stock warrants in the fledgling Maven company.
Meredith appears to be sanguine about losing the publishing rights and said it only hung onto the publishing operation initially to speed along the much-delayed selloff process.
“As a result of ABG’s decision to license the Sports Illustrated media assets to a third party — which was ABG’s right under the contract — Meredith’s goal of a completed transaction is achieved.”
Still, Meredith is not entirely clear of SI. It is still shopping the blog site Fansided, which was added to SI when it still part of Time Inc. but which was left out of the May 27 deal between ABG and Meredith.
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