Golf mags heat up

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The sale of The New York Times Co.'s golf magazines to Advance Publications means "the battle in the golf category will be taken to a higher green," to quote one industry executive.

Groan at the pun, but not its meaning. In recent months, the two biggest players in the lucrative golf category have been snatched up by two of the giants of magazine publishing. Time Inc. acquired Times Mirror Magazines-including the 1.4 million-circulation Golf Magazine-last October for $475 million. Last week, privately held Advance, parent of Conde Nast Publications, bought the last remaining standalone magazines published by the Times Co.

Advance isn't talking about the purchase, but according to one executive familiar with the deal, the publisher paid $375 million for the golf books. A Conde Nast spokeswoman declined comment.

The golf group consists of 1.55 million-circulation Golf Digest, as well as Golf Digest Woman, the weekly Golf World, Golf World Business and In 2000, it posted revenue of $115.4 million and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of $21.5 million.

That gives the deal a rich multiple of at least 17.4 times EBITDA-too rich, apparently, for Time Inc. parent AOL Time Warner, which was invited by the Times Co. to make a counteroffer late in the process.

Rivals of the golf leaders include American Express Publishing Co.'s T&L Golf, Meredith Corp.'s Golf for Women and Turnstile Publishing Co.'s Golf Week. (Turnstile Chairman Rance Crain also is editor

in chief of Advertising Age and president of parent Crain Communications Inc.)

According to Publishers In-formation Bureau, Golf Digest had 1,507.1 ad pages in 2000, down 1.8%, while Golf Magazine recorded 1,441.1, up 1%. Golf World had 1,443.3 ad pages, up 10.3%, while Golf for Women recorded 1,430.5, up 6.4%. The other titles are not measured by PIB.

The former New York Times Co. titles will be operated as a segment separate from Advance's other magazine groups. Advance has not yet announced which of its executives will run the new division, but the smart money is on Mitchell Fox, currently Conde Nast exec VP-corporate sales.

An executive at a rival company familiar with the magazine group's financials said Golf Digest accounted for 100% of the segment's profits, meaning other properties-such as the Web site-operated at a loss. The Times Co. declined comment on any aspects of the sale price or the profitability of individual titles.

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