Authentic Brands Group, a prolific acquirer of consumer brands across the entertainment, sports and lifestyle sectors, has emerged as the front-runner to purchase Sports Illustrated from Meredith in a deal worth some $110 million, according to The Wall Street Journal. If executed, the transaction reportedly won’t include FanSided, the iconic sports magazine’s fandom-focused digital media division. 

Meredith obtained SI during its larger roughly $1.9 billion purchase for Time Inc. in early 2018, with $650 million coming from Koch Equity Development. Since then, it's gradually unloaded Time Inc.’s most famous assets: Time magazine itself to Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff and wife Lynne Benioff for $190 million; Fortune magazine to Thai businessman Chatchaval Jiaravanon for $150 million; and reportedly, SI potentially by June. 

It remains to be seen if Authentic Brands would be an ideal fit for SI, given that private equity has yet to help the struggling print media industry. The potential acquirer launched in 2010 with a $250 million commitment from Leonard Green & Partners, Knight’s Bridge Capital Partners and founder James Salter. In the ensuing decade, it's proven a big player in the retail space, purchasing Nine West out of bankruptcy for $340 million last June and lifestyle brand Volcom earlier this month. 

SI, once the preeminent voice in sports writing, reportedly remains a profitable business, especially considering its immensely popular annual SI Swimsuit Issue. Still, the company has faced the same cratering print advertising sales that have crippled the rest of the publishing industry, And it now has increased competition from the likes of The Athletic, a subscription-based sportswriting site recently valued at $200 million, along with ESPN, The Ringer and a host of other online sports publications that have cut into its market share over time. 

If Authentic Brands ultimately wins the auction, it would keep SI’s print product alive for at least another two years, per retail-focused website WWD. But its bigger play would be licensing SI’s brand, which could reportedly include launching kids' sports camps and injury rehab clinics. That sort of cross promotion is what Authentic Brands has specialized in while building consumer brands for celebrities such as retired NBA star Shaquille O’Neil and ex-pro golfer Greg Norman. Here’s to hoping this strategy could produce a viable business model to preserve SI’s journalistic aspirations. 

Featured image via Pgaim/E+/Getty Images 
 

Related read: Sports writing now worth $200M at The Athletic

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