Sports Publishing LLC releases details about bankruptcy

Sports Publishing LLC releases details about bankruptcy

CHAMPAIGN – Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is listed among dozens of creditors of Sports Publishing LLC, the Champaign-based company that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month.

The company, which filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy Oct. 15 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Central District of Illinois, submitted further information last week outlining its situation.

Under Chapter 11, a company is protected from the threat of creditors' lawsuits while it reorganizes its finances.

Over the last decade, Sports Publishing has published hundreds of books about sports teams and athletes. Subjects included baseball great Barry Bonds, NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, golfer Tiger Woods, cyclist Lance Armstrong and announcer Dick Vitale.

On Monday, company President Peter Bannon issued a brief statement on the filing, noting that the company has "more than a decade of experience in the publishing industry and will be working diligently to emerge strongly from this difficult situation."

In documents filed last Thursday, Sports Publishing listed nearly $5.86 million in liabilities and $3.65 million in assets, most of which was book inventory. The company once employed about 50 people in Champaign, but that number fell to 22 by last December and continued to drop this year.

In the filing, Champaign-based Strategic Capital Bank was listed as the only creditor with a secured claim, totaling about $1.99 million.

Sports Publishing asked for – and was granted – a week's extension in filing a full list of creditors with unsecured claims. But it identified the 20 largest unsecured claims, and one of those was $57,578 owed to Phelps, who won eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Earlier this year, Sports Publishing issued "Michael Phelps: Beneath The Surface," an updated, softcover book by Phelps and Brian Cazeneuve, a staff writer for Sports Illustrated. Cazeneuve was also listed among the 20 largest unsecured creditors, with a claim of $49,093.

Several major newspapers were also listed as creditors, including USA Today, the New York Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times, The Times-Picayune of New Orleans and the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World.

Sports Publishing has often collaborated with newspapers in publishing "instant" books when college or professional sports teams covered by those papers win national titles.

The largest unsecured claim was $450,000, listed for Heathrow Capital LLC of Bethesda, Md.

Another claim, for $124,699, was held by Chicago-based InnerWorkings, which tangled with Sports Publishing in litigation earlier this year before the two companies withdrew their respective suits.

Local residents with major unsecured claims, according to the filing, included: Stuart Broeren of Champaign, $200,000; Tom Bryan of Rantoul, $100,000; Rudolph Mortimer of Urbana, $100,000, Tom Ealy of Champaign, $66,000, and Michael Ozment of Champaign, $50,000.

A meeting of creditors is scheduled for 11 a.m. Nov. 18 in the Federal Building, 201 N. Vermilion St., Danville.

Sports Publishing investors are also affected by the filing. Altogether, the company listed about 160 people with equity interests in the company, many of them local residents.

In the filing, Sports Publishing reported its gross income totaled about $7.38 million in 2006, about $6.41 million in 2007, and $2.35 million so far in 2008.

In 2001, Publishers Weekly called Sports Publishing the fastest-growing independent publisher in the country. Much of the company's growth that year was due to "America's Heroes," a collection of stories and photos from The Associated Press about firefighters, police officers and other heroes who responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But the company is best known for its emphasis on sports, primarily basketball, baseball, hockey, NASCAR, boxing and golf.

Though most of its subjects have been sports figures and teams, Sports Publishing has also published books on celebrities, including Elvis Presley, musician Gretchen Wilson and Chief Illiniwek.

The company stated that it leases its 30,000-square-foot building at 804 N. Neil St., C, from Peter Bannon. The lease has about three years left on it, according to the filing.

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