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Sports Illustrated Publisher’s Top Investors Seek to Remove 5 Board Members

The two largest investors in Maven have begun the process to have them removed

Sports Illustrated publisher Maven’s two of the largest investors — B. Riley Financial, Inc. and 180 Degree Capital Corp. — said on Monday they were pushing forward with the process to remove five of Maven’s directors: John Fichthorn, Rinku Sen, Peter Mills, David Bailey and Josh Jacobs.

“The request of B. Riley and 180 is solely related to their belief that the Board’s composition needs to change to enable [Maven] to achieve its growth and value creation potential,” the top investors said in a joint release.

B. Riley and 180 also pointed to a “new business model” led by Maven CEO Ross Levinsohn, the Sports Illustrated chief who was appointed to the Maven position in August, and “preparation for an uplist to a major stock exchange” as reasons for the board overhaul. The investors also said that because Maven has not filed “timely” financial statements with the SEC, the company has not had an annual meeting in “over two years.”

“B. Riley and 180 believe a board that reflects the ‘new’ Maven, and one that has significant public company board experience, is critical to have in place immediately,” the release said. “B. Riley and 180 regrettably determined that asking stockholders to remove Board members by written consent is the only viable path forward at this time. To be clear, this is 100% a Board of Directors oversight matter and has nothing to do with Maven’s management or employees.”

Last Tuesday, the two chairmen and CEOs of B. Riley and 180 sent a letter to Maven’s board requesting that Fichthorn, Sen, Mills, Bailey and Jacobs resign from their positions immediately.

“While we appreciate the time and dedication of the Board of Directors over the years, we believe that new direction needs to start from the top, with a new Board that better reflects the company’s current strategy and stockholder base,” the letter from B. Riley’s Bryant Riley and 180’s Kevin Rendino said.

Giving those directors a deadline of Nov. 25, Riley and Rendino said that if the directors did not comply they would move ahead to seek the consent of “stockholders representing a majority of the voting power of the outstanding shares of the company” to remove the directors in question.

This marks the latest turmoil for Sports Illustrated, which was acquired by Authentic Brands GroupĀ from Meredith Corporation last year and shortly thereafter licensed the publishing of the magazine’s website to Maven Media Brands, led by CEO James Heckman and former Los Angeles Times publisher Ross Levinsohn.

In May, ABG CEO Jamie Salter publicly disagreed with SI.com’s decision to cut 9% of its staff, saying that while Maven’s moves were in line with what other corporations had done in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company did not necessarily agree with all of TheMaven’s actions. The site had laid off 40 employees October 2019 and cut print publication to monthly.

In a statement at the time, Levinsohn — then serving as CEO of SI media operations — sidestepped Salter’s criticism and praised Maven’s handling of the brand: “In only a few months, Maven turned a struggling print-news-focused business, reaching a fraction of its historic audience, into a thriving digital sports network, with expansive video offerings reaching 35 million fans.”

Heckman, who was ousted in August, had said in a statement that the company expected to see a $30 million drop in revenue this year. The goal of the layoffs was to “get ahead of the economic tumult triggered by the novel coronavirus pandemic and ensure the ongoing strength of the company.” Seattle-based Maven employed 332 people prior to the cuts, Heckman said.

Maven publishes both Sports Illustrated and TheStreet, as well as History.com, Maxim and Biography.