The Company That Published Fake AI Authors at Sports Illustrated Just Lost the Whole Magazine

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The Arena Group, which allowed for the publishing of fake authors with AI-generated headshots and allegedly AI-generated content to Sports Illustrated and its sister site TheStreet, has now lost Sports Illustrated entirely, The New York Times reports.

Sports Illustrated's magazine publishing deal is — or was — widely regarded as one of the stranger deals in media. Though Sports Illustrated is undeniably the Arena Group's most recognizable brand, the publisher didn't actually own the title; it licensed the Sports Illustrated name from a company called Authentic Brands Group, which owns the rights to the Sports Illustrated name.

But according to the NYT, the embattled Arena Group and Sports Illustrated are officially parting ways. In the wake of the Sports Illustrated AI scandal, subsequent executive firings and a missed licensing payment that led to massive Sports Illustrated job cuts, Authentic Brands Group has finally found a new publisher for the legacy brand: Minute Media, a digital media company that publishes sites including The Players' Tribune and Mental Floss.

When "you get the opportunity to work with and grow an iconic brand like Sports Illustrated," Minute Media CEO Asaf Peled told the NYT of the deal, "you take it."

Onward and Upward

Per the NYT, Minute Media plans to continue Sports Illustrated's print magazine, which the Arena Group had been planning to terminate. The deal is long-term, and the company also says it's planning to rehire some of the dozens of Sports Illustrated staffers that Arena abruptly laid off in January.

The Arena Group hasn't been in a healthy place for some time now. But its downward and SEO-hungry spiral was magnified by the media company's disastrous foray into deceptive AI content, which brought it new levels of public scrutiny. And as Business Insider reported yesterday, the bizarre tenure of billionaire majority owner and 5-hour Energy magnate Manoj Bhargava has brought new levels of disarray to the Arena Group and the publications in its stewardship, Sports Illustrated included.

"No one really knows what Manoj's angle is," a source familiar with Bhargava's leadership told BI. "He benefits from this perception that he's crazy like a fox."

In short, things have been incredibly chaotic for the Arena Group, its publications, and their staffers. And over the past year, the Arena Group has taught an unfortunate masterclass in the reality that AI content won't plug larger holes in a media company's hull — and in fact, might make them worse. Here's hoping that Minute Media can right the ship.

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