Barrett reports to Maven CEO Ross Levinsohn. All of the company’s media brands, including SI and TheStreet, and editorial teams report to Barrett, who will remain based in the New York area. He started at Maven Media on Feb. 16.
In 2019, Authentic Brands Group purchased Sports Illustrated from Meredith for $110 million (after Meredith bought Time Inc.). ABG then licensed media and publishing rights for the SI brand to Maven. Also in 2019, Maven bought TheStreet for $16.5 million in cash.
Sports Illustrated has gone through multiple rounds of layoffs after the change in ownership, including a 25% reduction in staff shortly after Maven closed its deal with ABG. COVID-19 inflicted a further hit on Maven’s business, leading to additional cutbacks. (Maven declined to disclose current headcount figures for the company or its brands.)
Barrett joins Maven from Hearst Newspapers, where he worked for five years as president of digital. Previously, Barrett led Yahoo’s news and finance group, when Levinsohn served as interim CEO and head of media. Barrett also has worked at Tribune Co. as EVP of interactive and as head of the L.A. Times’s digital group, as well as ABC News, where he was managing producer of ABCNews.com, and at Time Inc., where he helped launch the first time.com website in the ’90s.
“Rob is a visionary leader in the media space. His work at Hearst, Yahoo, Tribune and ABC News is well documented,” Levinsohn said in a statement. “I couldn’t be more excited to have him join our incredible editorial teams at Sports Illustrated and TheStreet to take us to the next level.”
Barrett said he has confidence that, under Levinsohn, “there’s real potential for this company to take off.” In January alone, SI.com drew more than 38 million online readers, the largest monthly audience in site history, according to the company. Earlier this month, SI launched an online paywall, with digital subscriptions starting at $5.99 per month; the publication says breaking news and SI Swimsuit Edition content is always free and visitors to SI.com will have “an allotment of free articles per month.”
Sports Illustrated’s circulation of its now-monthly print edition has plummeted — from 2.8 million in May 2019 to 1.6 million by December 2020, per the Alliance for Audited Media — but it remains a key part of the business, Barrett said. TheStreet, meanwhile, grew subscription revenue 30% in 2020.
“My charter is to grow these brands’ subscriptions and advertising businesses,” Barrett said. “A large part of my job is to continue driving growth at SI and TheStreet, and for that to benefit the broader network of partners.”
Asked whether Sports Illustrated has a morale problem at this point, Barrett said, “Ross has done a fantastic job of addressing the earlier issues and investing in editorial.” He noted that SI’s recent hires have included Chris Almeida, formerly of the Ringer; Howard Beck, previously with the New York Times; Kate Fagan, former ESPN correspondent; and former FiveThirtyEight contributor Michael Pina.
Levinsohn took over the CEO spot at Maven last August, replacing founder James Heckman. At the same time, the company raised $24 million in financing from backers including B. Riley Financial, 180 Degree Capital, Invenire Capital Partners, TCS Capital Management and Hunt Technology Ventures.
Seattle-based Maven says it reaches 150 million monthly users through SI and TheStreet and via its business to provide the technical platform and monetization for more than 275 brands including History, Biography, Maxim and Ski Magazine.
Maven’s stock is traded over-the-counter but according to its regulatory filings it is not required by the SEC to report financial results because it is a “smaller reporting company” (which either has public stock worth less than $250 million; or less than $100 million in annual revenues and no public float or public float of less than $700 million).