On August 16, 1954, a new magazine dedicated to covering sports appears on American newsstands. Announcing itself with a striking cover photo of Milwaukee Braves third baseman Eddie Mathews, his swinging bat a blur against the dramatic backdrop of a crowded Milwaukee County Stadium, Sports Illustrated is considered a joke by some at its publisher and will not make money for most of its first decade. Eventually, however, it will become the undisputed leader in American sports media, the sporting magazine of record and one of the most recognizable media brands in the world.
Henry Luce, the creator of Time magazine, was not a sports fan. But he believed in the early 1950s that the American media landscape was missing something: a Time-like magazine dedicated to sports. Although many of his advisors considered sports a frivolous topic and tried to talk him out of the idea, the media magnate got his way.
For more than a decade after it was first published, Sports Illustrated failed to turn a profit. Its inaugural edition contains some clues as to why: Coverage ranged from a puff piece on the Duke of Edinburgh to a guide on how to buy a puppy and a piece on poison ivy by a doctor who speculated that its leaves might make for a good salad. The magazine continued to be somewhat erratic, favoring elite leisure sports over more popular sports for years after its inception.
But things changed when seasoned reporter Andre Laguerre took over as managing editor in 1960. Laguerre brought structure to the magazine and shifted its focus to the major sports, such as baseball and football, whose popularity was exploding in post-war America, thanks largely to the proliferation of television. Within a few years, SI was profitable, and by the 1970s it became a go-to source for American sports news, retaining its strong brand and reputation for sterling journalism well into the age of ESPN and digital media.