Sports Illustrated is jumping headlong into the entertainment business.
Authentic Brands Group, which purchased the storied magazine for $110 million last May, has partnered with 101 Studios to form Sports Illustrated Studios, a vehicle to develop, produce and distribute long-form film, television and audio content.
This is not the first time the magazine has attempted to move into the entertainment space. In 2015, it created Sports Illustrated Films, but that was “more limited in scope,” creating short films and other content for SI TV that no longer exists, according to AGB. SI Studios is much bigger and broader, focusing on long-form content for streaming services, movie theaters, cable channels and others.
The content for SI Studios will be based on the magazine’s present and future work and will focus on what it deems to be the most important and memorable stories in sports throughout its 65-year history. It will include film, documentaries, scripted and reality TV, miniseries and podcasts created by writers, directors and producers who are considered experts at storytelling with an affinity for sports. That will include the writers who currently contribute to the magazine who are “key and integral” to the success of the publication, according to David Glasser, chief executive officer of 101 Studio. “A lot of them have an incredible voice and we will bring them into our content world. We’ll work hand-in-hand.”
“So much of Sports Illustrated’s legacy has been built on phenomenal reporting and writing,” added Ross Levinsohn, ceo of Sports Illustrated Media. “We are thrilled that the in-depth stories that have come to define Sports Illustrated’s unrivaled storytelling will be further enlivened though this 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.”
101 Studios will manage and oversee all production, distribution and marketing of the content in collaboration with ABG.
Jamie Salter, ceo of ABG, said his relationship with Glasser dates back more than a decade. When ABG was in negotiations to buy the magazine, Salter said Glasser told him that Sports Illustrated represented much more than a print and digital publication centered around news, but was “the most trusted brand in sports.” And its archive, which dates to 1954, represented “enormous potential” for the two companies.
Salter said under the terms of the deal, ABG and 101 Studios are 50-50 partners in the joint venture, which is “a bit of a different deal than we traditionally do, but we believe so much in this partner.” It also represents ABG’s drive to become more than a licensing company but one that produces “content, content, content,” he said. “I won’t tell you we’re the next Disney, but we have the ability to create an enormous amount of content and distribute it around the world.”
Salter has said in the past that Disney is one of the companies that he most admires for its ability to blend entertainment and merchandising. He also believes there are “plenty of merchandise opportunities” to capitalize on from SI Studios. “Think of anything Disney does,” he said. “If they make a fictional movie or a documentary or scripted TV show, they create merchandise to go along with that.”
Additionally, Salter said, SI Studios will also allow the brand to attract a younger audience. If the content is featured on Netflix or Amazon or Hulu, for example, these are channels that appeal to a person generally younger than the traditional magazine reader.
SI Studios will also attract more women, said David Hutkin, chief operating officer of 101 Studios, who said that there are currently very few outlets that cater to women in sports.
“At the core of 101 Studios, we seek to tell stories that create cultural conversations, which is the same pillar behind the stories that have been told and continue to be told by Sports Illustrated,” said Glasser.
The first project will be a docuseries called “Covers.” Based on SI’s top cover stories of all time, each episode will chronicle historic moments in sports history. Glasser said that he is deep in conversation with “A-list filmmakers” and directors right now and expects to announce the first of the projects within the next six weeks.
Over the decades, athletes featured on the Sports Illustrated covers have included Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, Sidney Crosby and Megan Rapinoe as well as teams, celebrities and political figures. The “Covers” series will provide viewers with a behind-the-scenes look into what went into creating each of them.
“Sports Illustrated is far and away the most trusted name in sports,” Hutkin said. “And with Sports Illustrated Studios, we not only have the opportunity to retell the magazine’s legendary and iconic stories to fans and athletes alike, but we also will be introducing new generations to the immersive world of sports as told by Sports Illustrated.”
SI Studios will become part of ABG Entertainment, a media and entertainment division of the company.
“The creation of a studio dedicated to developing original programming is a key building block for the future of Sports Illustrated and ABG,” Salter added. “Less than a year after acquiring the brand, we have made great strides in tapping the value of this franchise and expanding its reach across sports, culture and entertainment.”
The new venture will also pit SI against other sports media brands including ESPN as well as smaller companies such as Bleacher Report and Barstool that blend both sports news and entertainment-skewed content. Glasser said SI Studioes will be most like ESPN, which he said he admires “immensely, but we will go broader.”