Sports Illustrated Seeks Synergy with Turner Sports Deal


Synergy is no longer a dirty word at Time Warner (TWX). Sports Illustrated and Turner Sports, two divisions of the media conglomerate that tread similar ground but until now have operated independently, are consolidating their efforts in a new digital media venture.

It's exactly the sort of arrangement that was envisioned when Time Warner merged with AOL (AOL) a decade ago -- a union so misbegotten, it seemed to taint the very idea of intra-corporate collaboration. (AOL, now an independent entity again, is the parent of DailyFinance.)

40 Million Monthly Visitors

The SI-Turner linkup is strictly a business-side phenomenon. Sports Illustrated, which falls under the Time Inc. magazine division, will retain full editorial control over its print edition and the website. But Turner Sports will take over ad sales, marketing and other business functions for the site.

The marriage carries a number of advantages for SI. One obvious one is scale: Turner manages a network of sports sites including the online homes of the NBA, NASCAR and the Professional Golf Association. Combining those sites with yields an entity whose total audience, at 40 million unique monthly visitors, outstrips both Yahoo! Sports (35.9 million) and (25.4 million).

It also gives Sports Illustrated access to a vastly expanded library of video content, including game highlights. That content is especially important as the magazine attempts to create a new business model around its iPad edition. Rich video is the sort of thing Time Inc. can use to justify the edition's $4.99-per-issue price, but until recently, SI didn't hold rights to much of it.

The Terry McDonell Way

Terry McDonell, editor of the Sports Illustrated Group, says the magazine has made big strides toward addressing that shortage in the last few months, both by producing its own video and through licensing deals. "We'd pretty much solved that problem, but that's not to say we will not welcome the highlights that are going to be coming our way now," he says.

Just for fun, I asked McDonell whether, now that Sports Illustrated is partnered with a big TV sports operation, it would ever be involved in something like last Thursday's Decision special on ESPN, during which LeBron James announced to an audience of 9.95 million people that he's leaving Cleveland for Miami.

"I think we reached a new level of narcissism with that," McDonell says. "It would've been completely [different]...We would lead with the big question. We would do journalism. We're not going to do infomercials."