While magazines have spent the better part of the last two years searching for ways to increase ad pages and revenue, SI is now using its in-house marketing department as a go-between for clients and potential outside sponsorships. By providing a link to added value opportunities for the marketer, SI finds a way to expand its own revenue. SI does not receive a fee for essentially acting as an agent, but gets an increased ad buy for its work. Nearly 90% of SI's ad deals incorporate some sort of value-added element. "Everything we deliver is part of the ad buy the marketer makes," says Lynch, director of the sports marketing and promotions department. "We're helping to facilitate partnerships."
SI brokers deals between advertisers and networks, leagues and events. Most recently, it helped Volkswagen of America become the automotive sponsor for the U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships and guided the National Fluid Milk Processors Education Program to a presenting sponsorship deal with the Core Tour, a BMX/skateboarding event for the Generation X crowd.
SI`s chief rival, ESPN the Magazine, is perhaps an even bigger player in the added-value game. Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN is aggressive at offering advertisers opportunities throughout the vast ESPN empire, including through its TV network, which just landed National Basketball Association games beginning in the fall.
But SI, with fewer sibling sports assets at its disposal within its group at AOL Time Warner (the CNN/SI cable net, part of the Turner TV division, was recently shuttered), has had to look beyond its borders.
"That really is one of our points of difference in the marketplace," Lynch says. "Our competitors do a great job of this, but there are times when they can't go outside their network, so to speak, and deliver a variety of options to the advertiser."
In both the Volkswagen and Milk examples, SI execs said they worked with-not around-the marketers' ad agencies, Havas' Arnold Worldwide, Boston, and Interpublic Group of Cos.' Bozell, New York,respectively.
SI`s marketing department is expanding its role as the editorial side comes under new Managing Editor Terry McDonell. The former editor of US Weekly, who joined SI in February, created early controversy when he ran a cover of ex-NBA star Charles Barkley breaking out of chains and then expounding on topics of racism and slavery over several pages in an article inside.
McDonell has been making subtle changes over the last three months, some in editorial focus, some graphic-related, while at the same time trying to keep star columnist Rick Reilly from defecting to ESPN. ESPN is rumored to be offering Reilly opportunities with both the magazine and the network to the tune of $1 million annually. McDonell has declined nearly all interviews since taking over.
Despite Reilly's flirtations and an overall dip in the magazine economy, SI remains the cash and cachet cow, so to speak, of sports magazines. Its circulation stands at 3.2 million for the last six months of 2001, flat compared to the same period a year ago, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations. Its 782.88 ad pages from January through April of this year is an increase of 3.28% over the same period last year, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Ad pages are also up 5.5% for April 2002 compared to April, 2001.
"We buy them for their ad pages and for who they are," says Robin Steinberg of Aegis Group's Carat North America. "The brand is very strong."