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Industry Innovators 2024: Sports Illustrated

The media brand has entered the experience space in a big way and has plans to expand even further.

This year's SI The Party featured performances from Kygo and The Chainsmokers, along with a special appearance by Captain Morgan partners Bebe Rexha and NFL legend Victor Cruz.
This year's SI The Party featured performances from Kygo and The Chainsmokers, along with a special appearance by Captain Morgan partners Bebe Rexha and NFL legend Victor Cruz.
Photo: Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

This feature is sponsored by BeEvents, creative evolutionaries who challenge the status quo to redefine the experience of live events. Its Smart Experience Design solution delivers highly impactful experiences that both stakeholders and guests love.

The Basics: Known primarily for its beloved publication, Sports Illustrated the brand has upped its experiential game as of late, adding a host of offerings to its roster, including SI Resorts, which are properties designed for “active lifestyles and sports enthusiasts,” as well as temporary and permanent lounge spaces at events and venues along with an expansion into international markets.

Goldstein said that the brand has major plans for more permanent spaces in partnership with sports venues, like the new Club SI at Churchill Downs.Goldstein said that the brand has major plans for more permanent spaces in partnership with sports venues, like the new Club SI at Churchill Downs.Photo: Courtesy of Sports IllustratedIt makes sense for the brand to lean on these other verticals given the tumultuous time the magazine has been through recently. 

Earlier this year, many feared the magazine was dead when its then-publisher said it was laying off SI’s staff. But then Authentic Brands Group, owner of Sports Illustrated, announced that it had struck a deal with digital company Minute Media to continue publishing the magazine. ICYMI: June 9 marked the 70th anniversary of Sports Illustrated’s first published magazine.

Despite the challenges, the brand isn’t making the shift from media to experience-makers. “We are always striving to connect with our consumers, sports fans, athletes, and enthusiasts through as many touchpoints as possible,” said Matt Goldstein, executive vice president of entertainment and special projects for Authentic. “The media arm is still the beating heart of the brand and that isn't going anywhere, but our other verticals, including hospitality and experiences, allow us to continue evolving as a modern sports business around the world.” 

For the inaugural Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix in November 2023, the brand brought Club SI, a three-day luxury hospitality suite that offered views of the race, along with special programming.For the inaugural Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix in November 2023, the brand brought Club SI, a three-day luxury hospitality suite that offered views of the race, along with special programming.Photo: Courtesy of Sports IllustratedMost Innovative Experiences: For the inaugural Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix in November 2023, the brand hosted Club SI, a three-day luxury hospitality suite that offered views of the race, along with programming including race night with Shaquille O’Neal and David Beckham.

Building upon that concept, the brand debuted Club SI at Churchill Downs in May. The permanent space, presented in conjunction with the brand’s hospitality partner, SI Resorts, offers a luxury equine-focused dining experience with an immersive view of the venue’s new paddock area. The interior includes Sports Illustrated magazine covers and editorial featuring past Kentucky Derby races.

Event Philosophy: “We want to be where the fans are. Whether that's at the Super Bowl, F1, Kentucky Derby, major tennis and golf events, and otherwise, Sports Illustrated will be there interacting with fans and providing premium experiences at sizes and scopes that meet the moment.” 

Lessons Learned So Far: “We truly win when we can tell the story of our key SI brand verticals through the experiential activations at our events,” Goldstein said, citing the SI Resorts integration at Club SI at Churchill Downs as an example. 

“We’re also seeing great success in how we can incorporate other Authentic properties into the SI experiences that are touching the target audience in a meaningful way,” he said. Authentic Brands Group’s portfolio includes a range of companies across sectors, such as Frye, which had a pop-up at SI’s inaugural Revel at the Races event during the Kentucky Derby, and Reebok, which activated at SI The Party during this year's Super Bowl.

“When it comes to the extension of the brand beyond its pages, the aim is to be the ultimate arbiter in the celebration of sports. In doing so, we are creating consumer-facing events during sports’ biggest moments that act as both a marketing avenue for the SI brand as a whole and one-of-a-kind immersive fan experiences,” Goldstein added. 

At this year's Kentucky Derby, the brand opened Club SI at Churchill Downs. The permanent space, presented in conjunction with the brand’s hospitality partner, SI Resorts, offers a luxury equine-focused dining experience with a view of the venue’s new paddock area.At this year's Kentucky Derby, the brand opened Club SI at Churchill Downs. The permanent space, presented in conjunction with the brand’s hospitality partner, SI Resorts, offers a luxury equine-focused dining experience with a view of the venue’s new paddock area.Photo: Courtesy of Sports IllustratedLooking Ahead: “Living at the intersection of sports and culture, Sports Illustrated has always led the way in terms of thought leadership and authority through the iconic magazine and its journalism,” Goldstein said. “We want to bring this ethos to physical experiences—from sports conferences, curated panels, and beyond. We also have major plans for more permanent spaces in partnership with sports venues, like our new Club SI at Churchill Downs.”

The night before the Super Bowl, A-list celebs celebrated at SI The Party, presented by Captain Morgan, at XS Nightclub located inside Wynn Las Vegas.The night before the Super Bowl, A-list celebs celebrated at SI The Party, presented by Captain Morgan, at XS Nightclub located inside Wynn Las Vegas.Photo: Marc Patrick/BFA.com

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