Sports Illustrated owner gears up for deal with sports betting company

The owner of Sports Illustrated is gearing up to complete a deal with a sports-betting company before year end, Media Ink has learned.

“It will be a game changer,” ­Authentic Brands Group chairman Jamie Salter predicted in a recent interview. Salter declined to identify the potential gaming partner, but a second source familiar with the company behind 50 brands, including Barneys New York and Frederick’s of Hollywood, said talks are underway with more than one sports-gambling company to ­license the SI Bets name.

ABG paid $110 million in May 2019 to acquire the Sports Illustrated brand from publishing company Meredith — and then turned around and licensed the media ­operations to Maven, a tech and digital publisher.

A sports-gaming deal would involve a similar transaction to ­license the SI Bets name, the source said.

Salter said the potential partnership will help generate SI digital traffic, and that any gaming company that licenses the SI Bets name “will sit on the Sports Illustrated Web site,” he added.

He also dismissed talks of a “civil war” at Sports Illustrated, which the Daily Beast on Monday said was raging due to staffers upset with Maven-led cutbacks and some affiliated sites that have popped up on Maven-controlled platforms.

After taking on the SI project in October 2019, Maven downsized more than half the SI editorial staff, cutting nearly 50 editorial staffers, jettisoning all of its long-form video producers and switching the top ­editors.

Maven has since made more cuts amid the advertising slump brought on by the coronavirus and has endured sharp criticism from inside for hosting a pro-cop Black Lives Matter blog site on its platform.

Maven does not own or produce editorial content for the blog, which has drawn what critics say are racist comments to the site, but it man­ages the platform, and the traffic the site generates figures into the overall traffic for Maven’s other publishing platforms.

Staffers at SI have said the site is “an embarrassment” and want Maven, a tech vendor for a wide number of blogs and sites including The History Channel, Yoga Journal and Maxim, to stop hosting it.

Salter addressed SI staff on July 31, and according to the Daily Beast ordered staffers to keep their complaints in-house and out of the press.

“If you’ve got a problem, please don’t call The Washington Post, please don’t call the New York Post,” he reportedly said. “Let’s talk it through, let’s figure it out. Let’s fix it. Our business is our business. There is no need for us to allow others from outside to know what we are doing inside, either good or bad.”

Salter admitted to Media Ink that he admonished SI staff at the July 29 forum. “I told them, ‘Let’s get ­together and stop throwing darts at one another.’ ”

But he denied reports of financial problems between Maven and ABG. “They paid me for three years in advance,” he said. “They don’t owe me any money.”

Asked about a report that Maven has been cut off from access to SI’s vast photo ­archives held by Meredith, he said that if it was true it did not reach his level.

Meredith declined to comment.

“The Maven guys are not bad guys,” said Salter, “but they are fighting some of the old ways from people who have been at SI a long time. The world is moving fast; if you are not jumping into the digital world, you will be left behind.”