Indelible Covers Transcend Digital Age Of Journalism When It Comes To Sports Illustrated – Forbes

Sports Illustrated is the platinum standard when it comes to the art of storytelling. Readers are captivated by long-form pieces and investigative reporting that have helped shape the culture of sports for nearly seven decades. The magazine is held in the highest of regards and viewed as a bible for sports. Instead of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, readers of Sports Illustrated are devoted to the works of world class journalists complemented by photography that beautifully captures significant moments in time.

As the pages of the magazine educate and inform through thought-provoking commentaries, human interest stories, and profiles, the cover serves as the foundation upon which a love affair begins with Sports Illustrated. Readers have enthusiastically collected magazine covers and treated them as if they were trading cards. Each cover of Sports Illustrated is a master class in the art of photojournalism where groundbreaking and indelible images are sewn deeply into the fibers of our memory.

Sports Illustrated is published by The Arena Group. A tech-powered media company, The Arena Group operates more than 240 brands and recently purchased golf publisher Morning Read to expand their burgeoning sports media vertical. Ross Levinsohn, Chief Executive Officer of Sports Illustrated, believes the cover still matters to an athlete even in the digital age of journalism. “I think it is history. I think it is the ultimate stamp of success, approval, recognition,” said Levinsohn.

Levinsohn’s emotional attachment to Sports Illustrated goes well beyond a highly successful business endeavor. As an adolescent, he was an avid reader whose entrepreneurial spirit would serve him well later in life. Levinsohn would rip the covers off the magazines and send them to the athletes with the goal of acquiring an autograph. Of the hundreds he had sent out during a three-year period between the ages of 10 through 12, Levinsohn was successful on approximately 60 occasions. While some are currently residing in his garage, about a dozen are framed and hanging in his home.

Sports Illustrated has invested significant time and resources into growing its digital brand which has helped breathe new life into the magazine. A younger audience is discovering Sports Illustrated through social media platforms such as Tik Tok. However, there is still something to be said about holding the magazine in your hands and admiring the cover. According to Levinsohn, “We put money into the book instead of trying to take money out of the book when we took it over. We perfect bound it. We added weight to the pages. We just thought this product deserves to touch, feel, be premium because it is.”

Whether its social media or the newsstand, Levinsohn wants to keep all doors open for people to consume Sports Illustrated with the goal of developing a lifelong relationship with the cover. “The great thing about the cover is that it’s not perishable. Digital files you can download but the tactile nature of a physical book, it’s just something about it,” said Levinsohn.

Steve Cannella, Co-Editor-in-Chief of Sports Illustrated, is a wealth of knowledge whose commitment to excellence begins with his reverence for the cover. According to Cannella, The Sports Illustrated cover represents a way to cut through the noise and crowded media landscape. It’s a message to stop and take a break from drinking out of the firehose for one second and pay attention to this because it is important.” Cannella believes Sports Illustrated is the ultimate curation and mark of authenticity. Given its present status as a monthly magazine, there are enormous responsibilities as each of the covers are viewed as valuable pieces of real estate.

Sports Illustrated is experimenting and trying to figure out the new essence of the cover. No longer reliant on news to inform readers of the biggest stories in sports for the week, Sports Illustrated is taking a forward-thinking approach by focusing on what will happen next or exploring trends and events. As season and event previews are synonymous with Sports Illustrated, there is also a greater emphasis on the biggest names, issues, and themes. News-related stories have found a home on SI.com where the digital daily cover resembles what the weekly cover had achieved for decades. The spirit of what a Sports Illustrated cover once stood for is perfectly preserved while upping the metabolism from weekly to daily and achieving great success.

Cannella presented an intriguing observation regarding athletes and how they consume content. There is a generation of athletes who didn’t grow up reading print products but are deeply in tune with what it means to have their photo alongside a Sports Illustrated logo. According to Cannella, “The cover represents a lot more than just a piece of paper. It is an idea, it’s one of our most valuable assets as a piece of social content. I like to think of it as the ultimate meme.”

LeBron James is one of the most popular athletes on the planet who has followers of 52.3 million on Twitter and 134 million on Instagram. James has unlimited access to his audience and can share anything he wants in a matter of seconds. So why did he choose to appear on the October 2022 Sports Illustrated cover with his two sons, Bronny and Bryce? A veteran of 38 Sports Illustrated covers, James has embraced the power of the magazine and how it cuts through social media with a razor-sharp blade of prestige.

James’ recent Sports Illustrated cover is a proud moment for Cannella. The collaboration with James and his family represents how the Sports Illustrated brand resonates and endures through generations. Besides showing up to the photo shoot wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with his first Sports Illustrated cover (February 18, 2002), James has enjoyed a good relationship with the magazine. They have celebrated his vast accomplishments while maintaining journalistic integrity when criticism was warranted of James. He trusted Sports Illustrated to tell his family’s story because he knew it would be handled with authority, respect, and fairness.

Cannella is equally as proud of the June 2022 Title IX anniversary cover where Sports Illustrated connected with generations of female athletes through crowdsourcing and meaningful conversations on what the federal civil rights law has meant to them. He also has great fondness for the April 2020 cover at the outset of the pandemic foreshadowing a period of great uncertainty with the striking image of empty blue seats in an arena. The covers have been lauded for their progressive nature as Cannella is working to find new ways to celebrate women’s sports and addressing the interests of the magazine’s current audience.

Some will argue the digital age has led to the demise of print journalism. The art of the written word is now beholden to 280 characters on Twitter or how Instagram and Tik Tok has empowered the masses to be content creators. Fortunately, Sports Illustrated is adapting and thriving thanks in large part to the cover’s dynamic imagery and iconic societal status. As in the poignant words of Ross Levinsohn, “The lasting legacy of an image that elicits some emotion can never be replaced.”