Sports Illustrated Owner The Arena Group Cans 2 Execs After AI Debacle

5-Hour Energy billionaire Manoj Bhargava, who holds a controlling stake, recently took over running the company

Sports Illustrated
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Sports Illustrated’s owner fired two top executives in the wake of the scandal that saw the iconic organization post AI-generated content credited to fake authors.

Front Office Sports reported that Andrew Kraft, COO of SI’s parent company The Arena Group and Rob Barrett, president of media, were given the boot Wednesday after the organization ended up with egg on its face for not disclosing the nature of the AI-generated reports, first revealed by Futurism.

Kraft joined the company in 2018 at chief revenue officer. Barrett, a veteran of Hearts Newspapers and Yahoo News, was named Arena Group president in 2021.

Futurism reported that a representative said the dismissals were unrelated to the AI scandal. The company said in a statement to Future of Sports that “some adjustments to the business have been made to improve efficiency and revenue, and also some changes to senior management have been made.”

The company claimed the reports and fake profiles of the “writers” behind them were licensed content from a third party company called AdVon Commerce. They were assured the authors were humans, The Arena Group said. The company’s finance site TheStreet was also caught up in the scandal. The company also owns Parade and Men’s Journal, along with a number of smaller titles, and is in the process of combining with Bridge Media Networks.

The Arena Group’s stock leaped on the news, adding 35 cents, or 11.9%, to $3.29. The lightly-traded shares ended Wednesday’s session down 65% since the start of the year.

Manoj Bhargava, the billionaire 5-hour Energy magnate who bought a controlling stake in The Arena Group in August, took over running the company with a “meandering” 90-minute video call with staffers Wednesday, Front Office Sports reported.

The call did not include a discussion of the AI debacle, the report said. But during the call, Bhargava told employees to “stop doing dumb stuff.”

“No one is important,” Bhargava told staffers, according to the report. “I am not important. … The amount of useless stuff you guys do is staggering.”

Matthew Lombardi, Arena Group senior vice president of growth, is expected to have “an expanded role” in the new leadership. Katie Kulik, named The Arena Group’s chief revenue officer last month, will lead the business side.

Arena Group’s CEO Ross Levinsohn will remain CEO, Futurism reported. He has held the position since 2020.

The company is also in the midst of a board shakeup that relates to the combination with Bridge Media. In a regulatory filing on Tuesday, it named Cavitt Randall and Christopher Fowler as new board members to replace Todd Sims and Daniel Shribman. Sims, a board member since 2918, and Shribman, who held a seat since 2021, resigned on Nov. 29.

Randall, 45, is CEO of investment firm MBX Clearing, an affiliate of Simplify Inventions, Bhargava’s company. Fowler, 64, is chief investment officer of MBX.

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