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  • Writer's pictureRoss Levinsohn

Ross Levinsohn and Sports Illustrated: The Past, Present, and Future

Magazines might not be on every consumer’s nightstand across America in 2021, but readers still crave great content.

( -- March 15, 2021) -- Magazines might not be on every consumer’s nightstand across America in 2021, but readers still crave great content. Instead of flipping through the pages of a print magazine, today’s readers check out articles, watch videos, and listen to podcasts from the convenience of their smartphones.

The modern-day magazine looks very different from its predecessors. In spite of that, premier legacy publications are learning to roll with the punches. Sports Illustrated, one of the longest-running and most successful magazines in US history, is honoring its roots while evolving its model to ensure longevity.

Sports Illustrated and Maven CEO, Ross Levinsohn, shares how Sports Illustrated’s history isn’t defining its future—and what diehard sports fans can expect from the brand as it evolves beyond 2021.

About Maven

Based in New York City (MVEN) is a coalition of over 150 media publishing brands. The company uses shared technology, distribution, and monetization tools for the brands under its umbrella, which includes publishers like and Maxim.

A behemoth of the digital publishing world, Maven reaches over 150 million people every month. After acquiring the rights to operate the media business of Sports Illustrated from Authentic Brands Group in 2019, Maven is focusing on helping the brand grow its audience and diversify its revenue by showcase premium storytelling from some of the best journalists in the business.

After overseeing Sports Illustrated for a year, in August 2019 Maven tapped Sports Illustrated’s CEO, Ross Levinsohn, to lead Maven through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

About Ross Levinsohn

Today, Ross Levinsohn serves as the CEO for both Sports Illustrated and Maven. With over 30 years of experience, Levinsohn brings deep expertise from the worlds of publishing, media, finance, and technology to both brands.

Ross Levinsohn earned his bachelor’s degree in Communications from American University. He’s served as the President of Fox Interactive Media, Executive VP and interim CEO of Yahoo!, CEO of Guggenheim Digital Media, CEO of Tribune Interactive, and as an on-air contributor for CNBC. Levinsohn has also served as a strategist and consultant for high-profile media brands.

Since August of 2020, Levinsohn has revamped Maven’s publishing brands to stay on the bleeding edge of both technology and quality content.

The Founding of Sports Illustrated

While Sports Illustrated is known today for its dedication to quality content, the magazine originally struggled to find its foothold in the industry.

Sports Illustrated’s founder, Henry Luce of Time Magazine, was anything but a sports fan. However, he wanted to increase Time’s portfolio of content and knew that there was a need in the market for a weekly magazine that covered live sporting events. Although Luce strove to make Sports Illustrated America’s go-to sports magazine, the publication wasn’t profitable for its first 12 years due to a lack of advertising interest.

The early Sports Illustrated struggled as sports demographics changed. Spectator sports became more popular post-World War II, particularly for the middle class. But in the 1960s, everything changed.

Andre Laguerre joined Sports Illustrated as its managing editor. As a Time Magazine veteran, he managed to restructure the magazine and double its circulation. From that moment on, Sports Illustrated refined its publication by making much-needed changes:

  • Higher-quality journalism: Sports Illustrated stopped accepting freelance submissions. The team realized freelancer contributions were often low-quality and lacked personality. It hired in-house writers to compose relevant content while building a trusted roster of go-to sports experts.

  • Football fanatics: Laguerre correctly guessed that football would be huge in America. He directed Sports Illustrated to focus on football as its popularity swept across the US.

  • Full-color photographic coverage: The publication prioritized photography early on, giving its photographers insider access to get readers even closer to the game.

In 1964, Sports Illustrated rolled out its first Swimsuit Issue, which became an instant cultural phenomenon that continues to this day.

In the 1980s, Sports Illustrated began including “bonus pieces” at the end of each magazine. These longer pieces of content dove into events and issues in-depth, which set Sports Illustrated apart from other competing sports publications.

A History of Excellence and Innovation

Since the 1980s, Sports Illustrated has continued its legacy of excellence. After nearly seven decades, the publication has attracted acclaim for its innovative approach to journalism.

Sports Illustrated became a cultural sensation because it took an innovative approach to journalism, investing in features such as:

  • High-definition color photos.

  • In-depth reports by talented, expert writers.

  • Artistic illustrations.

  • Awards for high school players.

  • Free sports cards in the magazine.

Sports Illustrated was the first magazine to ever reach one million readers in circulation. It also won the prestigious National Magazine Award for General Excellence not once, but twice. The publication is also the second most-profitable consumer magazine in the world, second only to People magazine.

Future-Proofing a Legacy

Today, Sports Illustrated honors its legacy as a premier print publication in the US. However, under Levinsohn’s leadership, the publication is embracing the future of content: digital access.

Sports Illustrated is owned by Authentic Brands Group (ABG) and licensed to Maven. Because of its new structure, Sports Illustrated has more resources on hand to pivot the brand quickly for digital-first content for its readers.

Thanks to social media and the 24/7 news cycle, Sports Illustrated has made plenty of changes to stay relevant to today’s sports fans. Moving forward, Sports Illustrated offers a set number of free articles to readers each month before a paywall kicks in. Once subscribers join Sports Illustrated, they have access to not only the print issue, but also:

  • Premium stories, videos, podcasts, and photos.

  • The SI Vault, the magazine’s digital archive that dates back to its first issue.

  • Early access to stories each month.

  • A customized newsletter.

  • Audio versions of select stories.

Thanks to its new premium membership model, Sports Illustrated is no longer beholden to advertising dollars. It can return its focus to what matters most: getting readers closer to the game than ever before with high-caliber journalism. The publication offers the same quality to readers, but in a new format designed for subscribers on the go.

Sports Illustrated documented the rise of spectator sports in America. It legitimized sports as something that wasn’t just for blue-collar workers, but for everyone. The publication has come far in 67 years thanks to its dedication to innovation. As the world changes, Sports Illustrated will change, but it promises to be a mainstay in the American sports world for many generations to come.


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