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Sports Illustrated fails to deliver May issue after breakup with publisher: sources

Sports Illustrated’s tumultuous breakup with its publisher caused the magazine to skip production of the May edition – leaving more than 1 million subscribers with empty mailboxes last month, The Post has learned.

Arena Group – which had its license revoked in January after failing to make a $3.75 million quarterly payment to rights-holder Authentic Brands – refuses to turn over the subscriber list to new publisher Minute Media, three sources close to the situation told The Post.

By the letter of its contract, Arena – controlled by 5-Hour Energy founder Manoj Bhargava – does not believe it needs to share the SI subscriber list, sources said.

The baseball preview issue was the last to be published and distributed by Sports Illustrated, sources said. Clay Patrick McBride / Sports Illustrated

Authentic sued Arena for $48 million for backing out on the remaining three years of the deal, and Bhargava might use the subscriber list as part of negotiating leverage in potential settlement talks, one of the sources speculated.

Arena Group and Authentic Brands declined to comment.

Minute Media did not return calls.

The disruption – believed to be the first skipped issue in the magazine’ 70-year history – was further fueled by Arena firing about 100 SI employees as part of its negotiating tactics with Authentic.

Bhargava had even threatened to kill the print edition of the iconic magazine after learning Authentic owner Jamie Salter was leaning toward awarding the rights to Minute Media, as The Post previously reported.

The last monthly issue printed was the April 2024 baseball preview edition with Shohei Ohtani on the cover – which was mailed to SI’s roughly 1 million paid and non-paid subscribers before the handover. Arena continued publishing SI after its license was terminated while attempting to regain the rights.

There is no May issue posted among the covers on SI’s website. The next issue is expected to be a June/July double issue, a source said.

Five Hour Energy Founder Manoj Bhargava feels he does not need to turn over the SI subscription list. Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Last year, the May cover featured an NFL Draft preview, and there were separate June and July editions.

SI charges $20 a month for 12 issues a year. The crown jewel of sports journalism came out weekly for decades before being licensed to Arena Group in 2016, which turned it into a monthly in 2020.

Minute Media – which owns the Derek Jeter-founded Players’ Tribune, along with FanSided, and soccer news platform 90min – signed a 10-year rights deal in March and rehired most of the SI staffers, including high-priced talent like Tom Verducci, Pat Forde and Jon Wertheim. Their bylines have appeared on recent stories published to SI.com.

The initial transition got off to a rocky start when SI’s website went dark for several hours following the migration from Arena Group to Minute Media.

Kate Upton and Gayle King grace the 2024 swimsuit issue which was always meant to just sell on newsstands. Yu Tsai/Sports Illustrated

The company did publish about 300,000 copies of SI’s popular Swimsuit edition, which hit newsstands this week and featured past covergirls like Kathy Ireland, as well as Brittany Mahomes and Gayle King.

Minute Media got the rights to the Swimsuit edition as part of its licensing deal with Authentic but the special issue was never intended to be sent to subscribers, sources said.

The holdup over the subscriber list is putting pressure on the privately-owned company’s bottom line, according to a source close to the situation.

“This is a rough transition,” the source said

“Minute is struggling to monetize SI and losing a lot of money tied to print.”