Sports | January 26, 2021 12:00 pm

“Sports Illustrated” Ready to Follow ESPN’s Lead With Paywall

The longtime publisher is set to make readers pay for the majority of its premium content

"Sports Illustrated" Swimsuit Edition on magazine rack
"Sports Illustrated" is reportedly preparing to put a paywall around "premium content."
Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images

In yet another change to its already somewhat unrecognizable brand, Sports Illustrated is planning to set up a metered paywall around much of the “premium content” on SI.com starting on February 2, according to Front Office Sports.

SI, which has let go of a sizable portion of its digital staff and substantially reorganized the format of its printed magazine under the watch of its current publisher Maven, could be placing everything from exclusive news to interviews to special photography behind the paywall, FOS reports.

Whatever the premium content is determined to be, SI could charge readers up to $5.99 a month to access it, a FOS source said. ESPN+, which includes premium content as well as access to some live sports and other programming, costs $5.99 per month. The Athletic charges $7.99 monthly.

While the concept of implementing a paywall for premium content isn’t unfair in a media landscape that now has many publications offering five or fewer free articles per month in order to make ends meet, the idea of paying for articles that are in any way, shape or form generated from a Maven-endorsed “rickety content mill” does not sound very appealing.

Prior to SI embarking down the path that has led to the impending paywall, the co-founders of The Athletic, Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann, offered to pay $50 million for the licensing rights to the publication.

“Mather and Hansmann’s plan was to upsell Sports Illustrated print subscribers to the digital Athletic product, allowing them to continue supporting the journalists it would have acquired in the deal,” NBC News and MSNBC media reporter Dylan Byers reported in 2019. “The Athletic’s offer would have given Sports Illustrated the opportunity to sustain and even grow its journalistic operation.”

Instead, the rights to publishing the legendary publication were sold to Maven and the rest, sadly, is history.

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