Sports Illustrated is branching out into movies and television.
Authentic Brands Group and 101 Studios announced on Tuesday that they will launch Sports Illustrated Studios as part of a joint venture between the two companies.
The studio's first project will be a docu-series entitled “Covers.” It will explore the stories behind the magazine’s most memorable covers and what went into creating them. The project's release date as well as five additional projects are expected to be announced over the next four weeks.
Authentic Brands Group — which also holds the licensing and trademark rights to celebrities such as Muhammad Ali, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley — acquired the licensing and marketing rights to Sports Illustrated last May from the Meredith Corporation. 101 Studios is best known for producing “Yellowstone” on the Paramount Network, which stars Kevin Costner, as well as recent films like “The Current War: Director’s Cut” and “Burden.”
The launch comes amid a global shutdown of most sports due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hungry for alternatives, broadcasters have been serving up reruns of classic games and other content, like ESPN's hit Michael Jordan documentary, “The Last Dance.” ESPN created its own films unit in 2008 and has produced over 100 documentaries with many part of the “30 For 30” brand.
Authentic Brands Group Chairman and CEO Jamie Salter said creating a film and television studio represents another key development toward building Sports Illustrated’s brand for the future. Salter also said discussions with 101 Studios CEO David Glasser about joining forces were in the works before ABG completed its acquisition last year.
Glasser said representatives from 101 Studios have been meeting with SI writers to get ideas for documentaries and shows they would like to see produced. He added that the magazine’s more than 60-year history of sports coverage lends itself to creating different types of content being produced.
“It can be films, scripted series shows,” he said. “We didn’t realize how much sports-related content we had already been working on until we dug deeper. The articles and covers can bring past stories to life but also we can look to the future and stories writers are working on that we might be able to reverse engineer into a six-hour mini series.
"There are so many ideas that can work hand in hand,” he said.
Since buying Sports Illustrated, ABG has licensed the publishing rights to Maven Media. The magazine has gone from being a weekly publication three years ago to monthly. The last eight months have seen multiple rounds of layoffs and Maven has tried building the brand digitally with team sites run by contract employees.
While Salter acknowledged the past year has been a roller coaster at times, he points to digital growth from 10 million to 34 million page views monthly as well as increases in profitability.
“Longform content is a big part of our vision,” Salter said. “We have made great strides in tapping the value of this franchise and expanding its reach. Since taking it over we have looked at a number of different deals. With this added piece and a few others we have been happy.”
This story has been updated to correct the name of Authentic Brands Group.