The owner of Sports Illustrated on Monday sued the magazine’s former publisher for $48 million, alleging the company stopped paying its bills as a pretext to negotiating a new licensing deal.

Manoj Bhargava, the founder of 5-Hour Energy drink and Arena’s largest shareholder, “behaved more like a gangster than a trusted business partner,” according to the lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court by Authentic Brands Group.

In January, Bhargava reneged on a $3.75 million quarterly license fee payment to Authentic Brands, the New York-based intellectual property company which owns the rights to celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Shaquille O’Neal.

According to the lawsuit, Bhargava, who last year paid $50 million in cash for a 65% stake in Arena, threatened to “go nuclear” by “sabotaging” SI and “hold[ing] [it] hostage.”

That prompted Authentic Brands to revoke Arena’s license. Arena responded by laying off the entire staff, including union members.

Authentic Brands then invoked a clause in the contract with Arena that required Bhargava’s company to pay a $45 million termination fee. Arena continued to publish the storied brand while seeking a new deal.

Last month, Authentic sold the licensing right to Minute Media, owners of the Derek Jeter-founded Players’ Tribune.

In its lawsuit, Authentic Brands accused Bhargava of seeking to “weaponize their obstinance as a means of threatening and forcing [the company] to capitulate to a series of outrageous demands.”

As The Post reported, Bhargava, whose Bridge Media Networks also owns a 24/7 network called Sports News Highlights, wanted to rebrand the channel after SI.

Jamie Salter, the CEO of Authentic, recently told the Washington Post that when Bhargava demanded a lower licensing fee, “I told him to f–k off.”

According to the lawsuit filed Monday, Arena acted with “lawlessness” by refusing to transfer SI-related licensed assets to Minute Media, including subscriber data and all editorial and other content.

Arena was also accused of continuing to use SI trademarks even though it no longer had the license.

“While the detailed allegations in our complaint speak for themselves, we do note that we are proud to be representing Authentic Brands Group in this lawsuit,” attorney Robbie Kaplan told The Post.

The Post has sought comment from Arena Group.

The Arena Group acquired publishing rights from Authentic in 2019 for at least 10 years.

The group’s stewardship of Sports Illustrated has had many hurdles since then.

In December, it fired chief executive officer Ross Levinsohn when the magazine’s alleged use of AI-generated stories drew public backlash.

Sports Illustrated was acquired by Meredith Publishing in 2018 as part of the purchase of Time Inc., which started the magazine in 1954.

Less than a year later, Meredith sold the magazine’s intellectual property to Authentic for $110 million.

Once a weekly publication, Sports Illustrated was reduced to biweekly publishing in 2018 and became a monthly in 2020.

Minute Media has said it will continue SI’s print edition as well as expand the magazine’s global operations.

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