With a slick weekly iPad edition and robust cross-channel packages including its meg-hit annual swimsuit issue, Sports Illustrated has adapted to the digital age better than many legacy print publications. But social media also plays a key role in kindling nostalgia and engaging younger readers, through the Sports Illustrated vault of photos dating back to the magazine's inception in the 1950s.
The @si_vault Twitter account has become a modest sensation among the sports media Twitterati for its multiple daily posts of timely and off the wall images celebrating athletic icons, historic moments and items of sporting whimsy. Since launching last autumn, its counterpart on Tumblr has amassed more than 30,000 followers.
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"For sports fans who want to go to ESPN, Yahoo or other sites, this is one thing those sites can't and don't offer -- huge collections of photos that have appeared in our magazine over several decades, as well as ones that never made it to print," he told Mashable. "The first day I looked through our photo database, I was blown away and just thought it could be something."
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Gray joined Sports Illustrated in 2005 and launched @si_vault in 2009 to share old magazine article as well as photos. He soon shifted to just photos after noticing that those were what resonated with social media users, then started the SI Photo Blog Tumblr more recently to help get social sports fans to share the images more.
Gray's photo posts -- culled from the magazine's massive digital image repository -- range from old World Wrestling Federation action shots, to poignant moments between longtime rivals, to curious images of athletes off the field or court. He says they've become equally popular with longtime Sports Illustrated subscribers as well as readers who may have never picked up a print issue.
"I might post a photo of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris smoking cigarettes in the Yankees locker room or Joe Namath wearing a fur coat, and all these college kids will be like, 'Oh, that's swagtastic,' or something where I don't even really know what they mean," he says.
That's an encouraging sign for a legendary sports magazine seeking to stay influential as media continues its migration away from print.
"People want to say this generation isn't interested in history but I haven't found that," Gray says.
Is the Sports Illustrated photo vault something you would check out -- or have you already? What do you think? Let us know in the comments.
This story originally published on Mashable here.