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  • Writer's pictureRoss Levinsohn

Ross Levinsohn, The Arena Group and Sports Illustrated CEO, Propels Both Companies to New Heights

Ross Levinsohn, The Arena Group and Sports Illustrated CEO, Propels Both Companies to New Heights

Within 18 months, Ross Levinsohn, acting as The Arena Group and Sports Illustrated CEO, propelled both to greater success. Already a New York Stock Exchange American-listed company (AREN), The Arena Group is poised to join the Russell 3000 Index, the Russell 2000 Index, and the Russell Microcap Index, effective June 27. This high-water mark represents phenomenal growth for a company working in the crowded media field.

The Russell 3000 measures the performance of the largest 3,000 U.S. companies, representing about 97% of the investable American equity market. Joining it is an important milestone for any company. The top Russell 3000 companies are among the U.S.’ largest stocks, and institutional and retail investors globally use the Russell Index expertise and products.

Home of Sports Illustrated magazine, the Sports Illustrated Media collective includes leading online sports brands The Spun, FanNation, The Hockey News, Morning Read, and Athlon Sports. This sports vertical continues to boost The Arena Group’s standing.

The Arena Group Sees Continued Success Under Ross Levinsohn

The Arena Group is a tech-powered media company with 40 owned-and-operated properties and more than 200 brands. Properties include Sports Illustrated, TheStreet, Parade Media (home of Parade magazine), and HubPages. Robust journalism fills the company’s websites and magazines with stories about lifestyle, readers’ favorite sports teams, and personal finance.

In 2019, Authentic Brands Group purchased Sports Illustrated magazine and its valuable intellectual property for $110 million. It then licensed its publishing rights to The Maven (which later rebranded as The Arena Group). The deal gave The Arena Group the rights to market and license Sports Illustrated, the swimsuit edition, Sports Illustrated Kids, the “Sportsperson of the Year,” and SI TV. According to The New York Times, the purchase included the magazine’s gold mine: a photo archive of more than 2 million images.

It soon became apparent that, despite Sports Illustrated’s incredible promise as a brand, the company needed a visionary who could amend the literary bona fides of the beloved magazine with electronic media and new revenue streams — so management tapped Ross Levinsohn as the CEO of Sports Illustrated and Maven. It was Levinsohn’s idea to rebrand Maven as The Arena Group and tighten its focus from myriad topics to category-specific content.

Levinsohn often refers to his systematic approach to fine-tuning media companies as a “playbook.” Plays within this book include hosting and acquiring sites which fit into one of several areas, including sports, finance and lifestyle verticals.

“Over 18 months, we pivoted our strategy,” Levinsohn explains. “When I took over as CEO, we focused our resources, energy, and strategy on using technology to transform media brands. We invested in technology platforms and the strategic growth of our team and designed a playbook for success that today is driving phenomenal user and financial growth.”

Now, Sports Illustrated Group goes beyond being a prolific content creator. It operates a scalable technology platform and monetization stack and possesses a well-oiled subscription infrastructure.

“It isn’t by accident that we’ve grown,” Ross Levinsohn said. “It isn’t by accident that Sports Illustrated has had kind of a rebirth. But it is all tied to the same thing we had when I was growing up — the brand is trusted, the brand is meaningful, and sports are really important to people. And we’ve tried to embrace that.”

Sports Illustrated Occupies Prime Space in Today’s Media Landscape

Arriving on American newsstands in 1954, Sports Illustrated was the brainchild of American magazine magnate Henry Luce, founder of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines. Not a sports fan, Luce nonetheless believed Americans would embrace a sports publication fashioned after Time magazine. He chose wisely: Sports Illustrated remains a world-renowned media brand 68 years after its debut.

As the American sporting magazine and website of record, Sports Illustrated tells the best stories with the most profound understanding of the sports world. Sports Illustrated survived the tumultuous media world for decades, remaining a gatekeeper and a tastemaker. When Ross Levinsohn entered the picture as CEO, Sports Illustrated had long been more than a magazine. He knew that the powerful technology, editorial expertise, data management, and marketing savvy of The Arena Group could deliver riveting content to more fans than ever. Sports Illustrated now forms an elaborate brand structure supporting media, hospitality, betting, fashion, and live events.

Much of Sports Illustrated’s trust is built on the backs of seasoned journalists who are among America’s foremost authorities in sports. The SI platform uses TV to cross-pollinate journalists’ exposure. On TV, they entertain sports fans while keeping the brand visible in the digital age. The future of media companies relies on integrating print with digital in ways that seem naturally symbiotic, and Ross Levinsohn understands that.

The Numbers Get Better

Ross Levinsohn’s vision has profoundly affected the performance and achievement of The Arena Group and Sports Illustrated. It isn’t just that he’s steeped in media, finance, and technology. (Before joining The Arena Group, he served as interim CEO of Yahoo and was president of Fox Interactive Media. He also held management roles at HBO, Tribune, Guggenheim Digital Media, Alta Vista, and CBS Sportsline.) He has the specificity, simplicity, and inspiration to take complicated companies into the future.

The numbers don’t lie. According to Comscore, The Arena Group’s sports vertical reaches more than 92 million unique visitors, growing more than 35% month over month. The company’s digital properties reach nearly 40% of all U.S. adults over 18.

A recent Forbes article titled “Sports Illustrated ‘Is on Fire Right Now’” mulled over a future in which Sports Illustrated Media leverages youth-focused properties in fresh ways to further engage with Generation Z and Generation Alpha. This plan includes focusing on social media, where 19.58% of followers are between 18 and 24 years old. (The most significant social media demographic is 25 to 34 years old; it represents 36.5% of followers). In what seems to be a juxtaposition, this nearly 70-year-old magazine has created a family tree of modern media products that attract the youngest among us. Today, Sports Illustrated feels spryer than ever.

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