Sports Illustrated draws interest from 2 more bidders -- including Jeff Zucker's Front Office Sports: sources

MONEY & BUSINESS: Sports Illustrated draws interest from 2 more bidders — including Jeff Zucker’s Front Office Sports: sources

The license to publish Sports Illustrated is drawing interest from at least two fresh bidders — including Jeff Zucker-backed news site Front Office Sports, The Post has learned.

In addition to Front Office Sports — minority-owned by the ex-CNN boss’s media-focused buyout firm RedBird IMI Management — Sports Illustrated’s publishing rights could also get a bid from Minute Media, which in 2019 acquired the Player’s Tribune blog founded by Derek Jeter, sources said.

The rights to publish SI went up for grabs earlier this month after its current licensee, The Arena Group, failed to make a $3.75 million quarterly fee — prompting the SI’s owner Authentic Brands Group to terminate its license.

Arena — which made headlines Jan. 19 by telling all of Sports Illustrated’s staffers they would lose their jobs because of the blowup — is still publishing SI under a 60-day contract provision, even as it scrambles to negotiate lower fees, sources said.

Former CNN President Jeff Zucker might be plotting a mini-sports media empire. REUTERS

In October, Jeff Zucker’s Redbird IMI Management bought a minority stake in Front Office Sports, which covers the influence of sports on business and culture.

Front Office Sports could publish its articles through Sports Illustrated, a source close to the situation said. There also could be co-branding opportunities, according to the insider.

Arena — which also publishes titles including Men’s Health, TheStreet and Parade — is hoping to hang on to it after winning a reduced licensing fee, sources said.

While the auction of the SI license is early, the battered, iconic brand appears to be drawing interest, according to sources. The Post reported Jan. 19 that Penske Media and Essence also made calls about getting the license, although it is unclear whether those talks have progressed.

Israeli Asaf Peled could become the new publisher of Sports Illustrated. Linkedin/Asaf Peled

Authentic Brands declined to comment. Reps for Front Office Sports and Minute Media did not return calls.

Minute Media — which also owns sites Fansided and Mental Floss — would roughly double its revenue to $500 million by signing a license to publish SI, sources said. In an interview last spring with CTech, Minute Media founder and CEO Asaf Peled predicted his company would be profitable by the end of 2023.

“We are looking at acquisitions,” Peled said at the time. “We’re going to be active on that front.”

In 2019, he bought Jeter’s Players’ Tribune, a forum where players write their own stories and connect with fans.

There are several parties looking to publish SI and its swimsuit issue. Getty Images for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

Last week, Minute Media announced it had acquired STN Video, which has partnerships with all the major US sports leagues to enhance and monetize user engagement. Minute Media said it raised money for the deal from funds and accounts managed by BlackRock.

Minute Media is the official North American content partner for top German football league Bundesliga. It provides match content on Minute Media’s global football platform, 9min.

Peled started his own business after working for technology conglomerate Cisco making acquisitions and investments with a focus on the Israel tech arena. He is also a former Israeli venture capitalist.

Meanwhile, the NewsGuild of New York and the Sports Illustrated Union announced Monday that they had taken legal action against The Arena Group with the National Labor Relations Board. They allege that Arena fired a handful of workers without giving them the requisite 90 days notice because of their union activity.

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