888 ends Sports Illustrated branding partnership, will reassess all US-facing consumer operations

SI Sports Illiustrated Sportsbook lobby
Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: March 07, 2024 13:46 PST

888 Holdings plc, the parent company of William Hill, 888, Mr Green, and other brands, has announced that it will exit its partnership for the use of the Sports Illustrated brand and is conducting a review of its entire roster of US-based B2C (Business-to-Consumer) operations. 888's US brands are available in four states but have not been profitable for the company.

The company issued an advisory on the situation on Wednesday, in which it announced 888 will end its deal with Authentic Brands Group, which holds the marketing rights to the Sports Illustrated (SI) brand. 888 currently operates the online SI Sportsbook sites available in Michigan, Colorado, and Virginia, and also operates the SI Casino site in Michigan.

The Sports Illustrated brand image has been marred in recent years by controversies unconnected to the branding deal involving 888. The legendary SI magazine has undergone a rough transition into the digital age in recent years, including the collapse of its print-publication deal in January and a scandal, which emerged in November, involving the alleged posting of online stories that had been written by AI, using pseudonymous names rather than by authentic, living writers. The controversies aren't necessarily the root cause of 888's SI sportsbetting sites failing to reach their potential, but they certainly don't help the situation.

$50 million in agreed payouts to end deal

888's announcement regarding the sundered partnership with Authentic Brands Group also declares that the split will cost 888 $50 million in buyout payments. 888 has agreed to pay $25 million immediately, and another $25 million between 2027 and 2029.

"Since commencing my role as CEO," said 888's CEO, Per Widerström, "I have been focused on ensuring the Group is set up to deliver strong value creation in the coming years. In the US, the intensity of competition and requirement for scale means huge investment is required to reach profitability.

"Our partnership with Authentic has consistently driven strong demand for the SI brand across both consumer experiences and product offerings. A series of record-breaking months for SI Casino has underscored the strength of the SI brand. However, despite these successes, we have concluded that achieving sufficient scale in the US market to generate positive returns within an accelerated timeframe is unlikely."

888-branded US sites also under review

While news of the SI split means that prospects of an SI-branded online-poker site are unlikely to ever become reality, 888's announcement places the broken partnership as part of a review of all US-facing online-gambling sites the company operates. In New Jersey, the fourth US state where 888 is licensed, the company offers three related sites under the 888 brand name:

  • us.888.com
  • image us.888poker.com
  • image us.888casino.com

According to 888's statement, those sites will also be reviewed, with possible outcomes ranging from closure of the sites and sale of the customer accounts to another operator, to continuing to operate the sites as is. "The strategic review of our US B2C operations will continue at pace," added Widerström, "and I look forward to updating shareholders on our plans for the wider Group in late March."

The 888 statement in total, however, addresses only 888's business-to-consumer operations in the US; it does not directly speak to 888's business-to-business partnerships. Most notably, 888 provides the software platform for the World Series of Poker's WSOP.com Nevada-New Jersey services. That ongoing partnership has also been the topic of debate in recent years, since WSOP parent Caesars Interactive Entertainment also has a software partnership in place with international online-poker giant GGPoker. The WSOP's WSOP.ca offerings, for example, are powered by GGPoker.