The Ultimate Homerun: FINN PR Pros Share their Biggest Sports Illustrated Hits
January 25, 2024
It’s rare that a publication transcends its medium and becomes part of global culture. Sports Illustrated is one of those. The magazine recently announced massive layoffs that likely signal its unfortunate demise after nearly 70 years covering sports.
Some of FINN’s Consumer Lifestyle and Sports team members were invited to contribute their reflections on pitching the internationally acclaimed magazine for a recent PRWeek article. With sports clients spanning Olympic athletes and professional leagues to virtual training apps and immersive digital experiences, our CLS teammates shared the ultimate insider stories on landing their clients the hallowed pages of this iconic publication. Take a look at their responses below:
John Acunto, Senior Partner, Sports
“I enjoyed working with Alex Prewitt on Yao Ming feature for the magazine’s popular “Where Are They Now” issue that explored Yao’s continuing impact on the game in China as President of the Chinese Basketball Association … Also, a lot of CBA conversations with SI legal reporter Michael McCann. Remember those calls being super informative for me as Michael’s expertise and knowledge was impressive.
Sports Illustrated will always have a special place in my heart. First, as a child growing up, as the magazine was a must read from cover-to-cover and fueled my love of sports. Then, over the last few decades in communications with the NBA, and now here at FINN Partners. From Ian Thomsen and Howard Beck to Rick Reilly and Selena Roberts, and countless other great reporters I’ve had the opportunity to work with, Sports Illustrated was the gold standard in reporting and still at the top of the wish list for many of our clients. Still hard to believe this may truly be the end after nearly 70 years.”
Caroline Andrew, Senior Partner, Olympics and Consumer Lifestyle
“Over the past two decades, our journey working in the PR world around the Olympics and action sports has been incredible. During this time, we’ve collaborated with some of the most influential Sports Illustrated (SI) reporters, including E.M. Swift, Austin Murphy, Justin Tejada (SI Kids) and, most recently, Greg Bishop. Pitching SI and securing a feature, especially a cover story, remains a standout achievement in my 20+ year career. Since SI reporters typically focus on stick and ball sports rather than action sports, our challenge was to immerse them in our world. We took them out of their familiar territory, provided the necessary education, and guided them to cover these sports like snowboarding and freeskiing halfpipe and slopestyle, BMX Race and surfing authentically.
What set SI reporters apart was their commitment to thorough research and in-depth storytelling with athletes from Kolohe Andino and Shaun White to the Freeskiing American Sweep in 2014. Despite being out of their comfort zone, they consistently demonstrated diligence, diving deep into the sports they covered. When they bit on a story and got it right it was a huge win. SI ending is a terrible loss that will have a lasting impact, fortunately those old covers will always be collectors’ items and their stories will live on.”
Laura Anderson, Partner, Olympics Co-Lead
“Sports Illustrated was the pinnacle for many years! It’s also worth noting the importance of SI for Kids. As a kid, I used to flip straight to the trading cards as soon as my new issue would arrive. To then be able to land athlete features from Shaun to Hannah and even work on some cover stories with Justin Tejada seemed like such a milestone in my early career. The kind of hits you get excited to tell your parents about! SI for Kids has been an important outlet in getting a future generation engaged with sports and a place for young athletes to be recognized. An end of an era, no doubt.”
Madelyn Flax, Women’s Sports lead
“As someone who got their start in sports PR in the twilight years of Sports Illustrated’s reign as the gold standard of sports media/journalism, the significance of the Sports Illustrated brand is not lost on me, especially its impact on everyone in the sports media space – brands, publicists, and athletes themselves. While the sports media pros have watched its decline in real time since 2018, many of our international sports clients – both women’s and men – have repeatedly ranked SI as one of the top outlets they want to be featured in, up until the end of 2023 even. It’s a testament to the power that the SI brand had on a global scale for so long.”
Zach Groen, Vice President, Sports
“Even before I began my career in sports PR, I remember refreshing SI.com every Monday morning during football season just waiting for Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column to hit. Fondly referred to as The MMQB – which would eventually become its own brand and microsite of SI – Peter’s column was required reading for all pro football fans. And it still is – although Peter left SI in 2018 and now writes his column for NBC under its new name: Football Morning in America (or FMIA for short).
And while I had a great appreciation for MMQB when I was merely a football fan, I grew to understand the column’s true impact when I began working in the NFL PR ranks.
Peter and his MMQB team would embark on an NFL training camp tour each summer, hitting the vast majority of, if not all 32 teams, between late July and the end of August. And when Peter came to camp – whether it was during my time with the Patriots, Packers or Eagles – it was all hands on deck. Because Peter knew everyone and everyone read the MMQB…that’s players, coaches, front office executives, and even ownership.
Thus, there were a lot of interviews and conversations for us to facilitate. And while NFL players and coaches have a ton of media commitments on a daily basis, especially during training camp, everyone understood the value of being included in the MMQB and jumped at the opportunity to have their voice or perspective in the column.
And while Peter drove SI’s pro football coverage for three decades, I was fortunate to work with a number of excellent SI reporters during my time in the NFL. Most notably, I worked closely with reporter Alex Prewitt on a 2018 feature on the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl championship offensive line. For a piece that was ultimately titled The Eagles’ Brotherhood of Blockers, I managed to wrangle six of our top offensive lineman down to a bar in South Philly – with an assist from Lane Johnson (plus wings and beer) – for an in-depth conversation and video feature with Alex. Ultimately it was an incredible way to commemorate an incredible group of players that would only go on to be intact for another one to two seasons.
As a side note, while SI’s MMQB column and SI’s MMQB content has evolved over the years since Peter left in 2018, SI’s national NFL coverage is STILL required reading, with excellent reporters like Albert Breer continuing to share the league’s biggest stories and offer valuable insights.”
Max DeFilippis, Media Relations
“Since I was a teenager, Sports Illustrated was the preeminent magazine when it came to sports coverage. From Peter King and Jack McCallum to John Wertheim and Arash Markazi, the reporters at SI had a way of making me, the reader, feel as though I had seats on the 50 yard-line, or was at front court at an NBA game.
As I moved into what is a public relations career that has lasted more than a quarter century, I found trying to place a client in the magazine was one of my most challenging tasks. While editors were often receptive and open to pitches. My most memorable in-magazine feature was a 2017 piece on the new cutting-edge percussive therapy device used my professional athletes called the TheraGun. I worked with Assistant Editor Jamie LiSanti on it. I often felt that landing a client in the magazine was the equivalent of winning a trophy, there was just something more magical about opening up a publication you used to subscribe to as a kid and seeing your client in that outlet.
Most of my client coverage came from other SI platforms (SI.com, SI Kids, SI Edge, etc.), as they provided public relations reps more of an opportunity to showcase their products, brands, or athletes in a different light, one that differed from the stick and ball coverage presented in the magazine. SI Kids showcased an in-depth holiday gift guide and our client partners Mongoose and GT Bikes were often showcased front and center.”
Blake Bellucci, AVP, Lifestyle (and Athletic Events)
Starting my PR career at Sports Illustrated was the dream. I studied marketing, international business, and Spanish, but my passion for sports came before my desire to work in any of those industries. When I saw an entry PR role open at Time Inc. – to work on Sports Illustrated, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, and Golf Magazine – I applied. Talk about THE sports brand! I didn’t know anything about PR, but I knew if I got to work at Sports Illustrated, I’d figure it out.
Joining the team, learning the ins and outs of pitching and media relations, being a part of issue planning meetings, finding out who would be on the cover before anyone else (ha!) and more, was something I will never forget. Now 10 years later, I still work in PR – over the years working on everything from travel and fitness to tech and consumer products. And it’s all because of SI!