Q&A: How the New Chief Editor of Sports Illustrated Plans to Keep It at the Forefront

'Tech & Media' vertical launches today

Chris Stone may not have officially started his gig as editorial director at Sports Illustrated, but the Time Inc. veteran is already busy at work in the new role.

After all, Sports Illustrated just launched its newest vertical about the intersection of sports, media and technology—the aptly named  "Tech & Media"—this morning. The new site will be anchored by SI media reporter Richard Deitsch's popular "Media Circus" columns and will also feature daily contributions from SportTechie, a leading site covering the global sports and tech scene.

"I don't think you can write about sports in 2016 without having a curiosity or understanding about technology," Stone told Adweek. "Technology is going to inform the crucial issues of sports today."

Adweek spoke with Stone about the new vertical and the incoming chief editor's plans when he takes over for Paul Fichtenbaum in July.

Adweek: Why is this space—the convergence of media, tech and sports—something worth covering more in-depth?
Chris Stone: We find ourselves in many ways at the same place we did with analytics in the early 2000s, right around the time that Moneyball came out. We just realized that this was at the center of the sports story. How can we begin to cover sports without understanding, appreciating and explaining the role of the nexus of tech and sports? In much the same way, how could you be a serious sports publication back in say, 2004, without really having a curiosity and appreciation of the place of analytics in sports? So many of the stories that we cover and so many of the storylines at the center of SI are informed by technology. It just stands to reason that we would make a much broader commitment to the covering of technology and throwing some real resources behind it.

What kinds of things will this vertical cover?
This week, we have a story about a company called freeD. The hope there is that it's going to revolutionize instant replay. It's going to be able to capture instant replay in a 360-degree fashion in a way that hasn't been captured before, yet. We also have a story coming next week which is about the intersection of finance, gambling and tech. It's a story about sports-betting mutual funds. It's fascinating—it's enabled by technology, among other things. It seems like a finance story, but it's also a technology story. And that's where we find ourselves with so many of these stories that we're telling.

Can you talk more broadly about what your goal with the SI brand is?
By the end of July, we're going to redesign our website. That's a critical first step for us, because we have premium content right now. Between our exclusives, the evolution of our video initiatives and the creation of these new verticals –we're also developing an NBA vertical in the fall – every day, we have something that we can look at from a content standpoint that we can be extraordinarily proud of. But we need to shore up the product piece of this, and that starts with the website.

What can SI do to keep up with a rapidly changing media landscape?
We don't have the answers to a lot of questions that we have going forward. You're always striving to create the next big thing, but the first thing you want to control what you can still control. What we can control is the quality of our content and the quality of our product, but also to make sure we're using our personnel. We tell great stories, but it's more than just telling great stories in the traditional sense. We have to be able to tell stories in new ways. We have some great ambitions in the original social content space.

What are the biggest issues facing digital publishers today?
What are the best risks to take? SI has great talent and resources that are still the envy of a lot of our competitors. That opens up great possibilities and opportunities. We also have bosses that are willing to throw their muscle and reputation behind big ideas and initiatives and partnerships. So now, we have these opportunities, we have these resources. It's properly identifying what those big partnerships and investments are. We only have a finite number of opportunities to get it right. We don't have a lot of margin for error, and I don't think any media company does right now. The types of big risks that we took 15 to 20 years ago pale beside the stakes of the risks that we're taking now.