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Sporting News ... Sold

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by JayFarrar, Sep 5, 2006.

  1. It's sad to see what has happened to Sporting News.

    I grew up on it and loved it, and then was thrilled to work there for a long time, and a year or two after I left, it got so mundane that I rarely picked it up again. Those three statements should tell you all you might like to know, but it's sad to see that it couldn't even try to keep up with SI and ESPN.

    The effort was just never there, and Sporting News has suffered because it wanted to be staid and complacent, not bold and vibrant. That kind of thinking went out in the 1050s, back when Sporting News was really the price of the magazine.

    I worked there. I often wondered: "Is this all we care about doing?"

    It was great experience though, and nice people (though maybe not driven enough to understand, and tackle, the competitors), so I hope Sporting News won't die on us here.

    I always wanted to see them make a run at Sports Illustrated. That woulda been a great turf war. But it never came close to happening.
  2. Smasher_Sloan

    Smasher_Sloan Active Member

    Once people got online, they basically no longer had a need for TSN. Its strength was always it could serve the Phillies fan who lived in Oregon.

    That guy can log on and read the Philadelphia papers every day, so why does he need that teaspoon's worth of week-old Phillies notes in TSN?
  3. Exactly, Smasher. Week-old news, and nothing dynamic in the feature stories. Boring writers.
  4. Smasher_Sloan

    Smasher_Sloan Active Member

    I wonder, Woodman, if they would have fared better had they put more emphasis on quality features? Or perhaps they were doomed to be runner-up to SI in that regard.

    Maybe it was all moot because ESPN would soon come along with a magazine it could promote relentlessly on its own air.

    I think the Internet has done to TSN what cell phones did to pay phones.

    The belief has always been that the TSN brand still has value, but I wonder about that, too.
  5. jaredk

    jaredk Member

    The only thing wrong with the Sporting News is that it never spent money. Period. It wasn't the people, it wasn't the effort, it wasn't caring, it wasn't the changing times, it wasn't a guy on his computer in Oregon reading freakin' Bill Conlin. It was money. The founding family, Spinks, operated bare-bones. Times-Mirror had its hands full with newspapers and didn't care. Paul Allen cared even less; his interest was in wireless communication, the Sporting News was to provide sports content, and when his wireless "revolution" fell on its face, bye-bye Sporting News. No one spent money. Do you really think any editor would rather scuffle for freelancers from 3d-string newspapers than hire the best editors, reporters, writers, photographers, and designers in the business -- as SI does? Or that execs would rather go unnoticed in the advertising world than spend millions on national promotion -- as ESPN does?

    That the Sporting News is alive and attractive enough to get even another shot at new life is tribute to the people it has. I'm a professional sports journalist. I can read. I have looked at that magazine's masthead. I am astonished at how that handful of people, given no money, put together imagination and a hundred freelance strings each week to produce a magazine that is a newsy alternative to SI and ESPN.

    That said, it's ridiculous what they've done with covers recently. Selling the covers for Ricky Bobby/Cingular ads -- unforgivable. Anna Benson on the cover, a zebra -- stupid. Those are signs of desperation, for money, for attention. I hope they go away with the new ownership.
  6. Smasher_Sloan

    Smasher_Sloan Active Member

    You're missing a couple of major points.

    The Spink family could run a bare-bones operation because their business model worked back then. They were the only publication providing team-by-team coverage. There was no USA Today Weekly, no Baseball America, certainly no Internet. People didn't have cable TV, superstations, all-sports networks, all-sports radio, satellite radio as alternative news/commentary sources. SI in the '60s was a tweedy mag that sometimes did long features on the joys of bird watching. TSN had the sports news market to itself, so it was efficient to have Edgar Munzel drop typewritten White Sox notes in the mail.

    Why would you hire a big staff? All you needed was office grunts to pull it all together. It worked well.

    The "handful of people" are putting together a publication today that is utterly irrelevant. I don't know what their demographics are, but I would suspect they're skewed heavily toward older readers who have been subscribing for decades and don't spend much time on the Internet.

    It's "attractive enough" to draw another offer that's a fraction of its last sale price, which suggests someone sees value in the brand name, maybe the subscriber list, and little else.

    I wish I had a great idea for what TSN could do to reinvent itself, but I don't. There was a time when Life magazine was a widely-circulated general interest weekly. It eventually died because of changing times and People came along. I can't help but think TSN is just at the end of its usefulness.
  7. jaredk

    jaredk Member

    1) The Spink "business model" was designed to sustain a family, not an empire. Had empire been the family's intention, there certaiinly were other models to use.

    2) The Sporting News reader demographics are nearly identical to SI's and ESPN's, in some instances skewing younger more quickly. National magazine surveys show it.

    3) I've seen no price on this sale, and I didn't believe the quoted price on the last one. That was spin.

    4) Life magazine is not dead. It is alive and well, albeit in a new form. A la Parade and USA Weekend, Life is distributed weekly by newspapers -- 70 of them with 12 million circulation. Might be a way to re-invent Sporting News.
  8. Smasher_Sloan

    Smasher_Sloan Active Member

    1. They made money. They served their readers. WTF?

    2. I'd need some proof on that.

    3. Whatever, I can't believe Allen didn't sell for a lot less than he paid.

    4. Could indeed be a solution for TSN. In which case, they would need a lot fewer employees. They'd be just like "Life" in the sense that they're not alive in their classic form at all, but just slapped their familiar name on a completely different product.
  9. BYH

    BYH Active Member

    Of course, one of TSN's biggest problems will surely not be solved with this purchase. You think the new owner is going to pour money into hiring a sizable staff when the magazine is a.) irrelevent to all but a handful of people b.) bleeding red ink and c.) really really irrelevant?

    I really think jaredk's Life Magazine-esque idea is a good one. You figure they coudl produce it on the leanest of lean staffs and that it'd be a good way to hold on to that last shred of tradition it hasn't whored out over the last several years.
  10. jaredk

    jaredk Member

    1. WTF is, Sporting News was content to be a family affair, not Time Inc., not ESPN. The latest versions of Sporting News have not been content to feed the owner's family, but have been asked to do the heavy lifting of corporate empire and do it with as little money as possible, a certain recipe for failure.

    2. I would've believed the stereotype, too, except I've seen the numbers. Another factoid: Sports Illustrated spends more on finding new subscribers each year -- "churn" -- than the Sporting News spends in its entire circulation/promotion budget.

    3. I'll go with you there. The sale took a long time to do, even after the company was put on the block publicly. But it wasn't the magazine that held it up. It was the radio. Nobody wanted it.

    4. And what general interest magazine of any age isn't "completely different" from its original format? Ask Frank Deford, Dan Jenkins, and Dr. Z about today's SI.
  11. Smasher_Sloan

    Smasher_Sloan Active Member

    1. You're the one who made the Spink family's thriftiness an issue. I don't see what that has to do with 2006 and the problems TSN has today.

    2. Stands to reason. I can't remember the last time I saw a Sporting News TV spot. If they skew young, I suspect they might be selling a bunch of those $5 subscriptions through schools.

    4. Well, SI isn't a general interest magazine. It's a sports magazine. To its credit, SI still has room for long Gary Smith stories, and it's probably a good thing that they eliminated the 12-page looks at what cricket means to people in the Bahamas.

    There's a difference between evolution -- which radio, TV and newspapers also experience -- and becoming a completely different product. That current "Life magazine" supplement is a 12-page throwaway. The real Life magazine was something that had an impact on American culture in its time.
  12. BYH

    BYH Active Member

    Early in my first year away at college, my roommate told me he'd signed up for four free issues of TSN. "If we like it, maybe we'll split a subscription," he said. We never had to buy an issue, but we got it free the rest of the year.

    Hell, the poor kids in room 209 are probably still getting it.
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