Maven Acquires Sports Illustrated, Taps Ross Levinsohn as CEO
One of the bigger media stories of 2019 was the acquisition of Sports Illustrated by Authentic Brands Group (ABG) from Meredith Corp. ABG acquired the prestigious brand and magazine for $110 million, and it surprised many in the media landscape. Just weeks after that announcement, ABG entered into an operational licensing agreement with digital publishing company, Maven Inc and CEO Ross Levinsohn. Under the agreement, Maven pays ABG an annual license fee to operate the media company and digital infrastructure for Sports Illustrated properties in seven countries (the United States, Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand) for 100 years.
Maven acquired the rights to operate the infrastructure for both the digital and print editions of New York-based Sports Illustrated media. In 2019, Ross Levinsohn - former Fox President and , Yahoo's Interim CEO and Head of Global Media, and Tribune executive - assumed the role of CEO. Since the acquisition and under Levinsohn's leadership, Sports Illustrated has seen a large spike in audience and earnings that is reflective of its favorable reception among its readers and audience, as well as its new ownership.
Maven (MVEN) describes itself as a technology company powering premium media brands -showcasing a coalition of mavens, from individual thought leaders to world-leading independent publishers, operating on a shared digital publishing, advertising, and distribution platform.It has several household brands - such as History, Biography.com,Yoga Journal, Ski Magazine, and Maxim - under its wing. In June of 2019, it also acquired the business news site The Street - a project founded by CNBC's "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer - for $16.5 million.
At its core, Maven is a technology platform company that provides infrastructure, publishing, and monetization services to more than 300 media brands. It also acts as a publisher and operator for several of its brands, such as Sports Illustrated and The Street. It recently raised $24 million via private placements in preferred stock, with the aim of continuing business expansion and reducing debt. Investors such as TCS Capital Management and Hunt Technology Ventures LP invested in Maven for the first time, while existing backers B. Riley Financial, Invenire Capital Partners, and 180 Degree Capital also participated.
A sound financial backing is essential to Maven's bold growth strategy, which has continued despite the challenging conditions brought on by COVID-19. This resilient strategy is rooted in the company seeking to acquire and/or operate brands with large followings, helping them improve their content management, as well as their social and monetization technology.
About Ross Levinsohn
In August 2020, Maven hired media veteran Ross Levinsohn to lead the company as CEO. Levinsohn had already been CEO of Maven-operated Sports Illustrated Media since June 2019, and he has retained that role. Prior to that, he was widely known for his leadership at Yahoo!, as interim CEO and head of global media, and as a president of Fox Interactive Media. He was a co-founder and partner at Whisper Advisors and a senior advisor at Boston Consulting Group. He has also served as CEO of Tribune Interactive, a publisher for newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times (for which he also served as CEO), the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Daily News. Levinsohn held a leadership position at Guggenheim Digital Media, overseeing brands such as The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard magazine. Levinsohn holds a degree in communications from the American University, where he served on its Board of Trustees.
Levinsohn has decades of experience leading several cutting-edge brands and a proven track record of introducing change and innovations everywhere he has worked. Levinsohn's experience and leadership skills are one of the many reasons why Maven has been able to scale rapidly in the past year.
About Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated has been one of the most famous sports magazines in the U.S. for more than a half of a century. The award-winning media enterprise's first edition was printed in August 1954, and it has since built a reputation as a cultural touchstone that turns sports moments into unforgettable historic events. One of its more distinguished accolades is that it was the first magazine with circulation over one million to be awarded the National Magazine Award for general excellence twice. It was a brainchild of legendary magnate Henry Luce, the co-founder of Time Inc., its parent company.
Under the leadership of Andre Laguerre as its managing editor, Sports Illustrated became the industry leader in weekly sports magazines by offering the most captivating content, as well as a connection between athletes and teams and its audience. Laguerre changed the focus of the magazine from leisure sports to major American team sports, which proved to be a game-changer. He was also responsible for the introduction of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 1964, which became the best-selling issue of the magazine.
In 1990, Time Inc. merged with Warner Communications and became the media giant known as Time Warner. In 2014, Time Inc. was spun off from the conglomerate and became a separate entity again. Three years later, Time Inc. was acquired by the publishing giant Meredith Corporation, which then announced that it was looking to sell Sports Illustrated and other divisions. As such, the company announced the sale of Sports Illustrated to ABG in May of 2019. Initially, it was announced that Meredith would continue to be the publisher of Sports Illustrated for the next two years. However, ABG soon entered into a licensing agreement with Maven, which took over the editorial operations of Sports Illustrated.
According to ABG, the magazine's revenues had doubled since the takeover, as of October 2020. ABG deems that this was largely due to a number of licensing deals that used the magazine's powerful brand. In addition, Sports Illustrated and CEO Ross Levinsohn are expected to close additional deals and further strengthen the magazine's presence in the market. This is in part due to ABG's strategy for finding effective licensing partners. As the third-largest licensor of 2020, it sold $12.3 billion worth of branded products and thereby advanced its business model even further.