HEARST, CONDE NAST FLEXING INTEREST IN SPORTS/FITNESS

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With more than a half-dozen magazines now in the pipeline, sports/fitness is emerging as the hot publishing category of 1995.

The interest is being fueled by explosive growth of new sports and the increasing emphasis on diversifying product lines by long-established advertisers like Nike, Reebok International and Fila USA.

Media giants Hearst Corp., Conde Nast Publications and even News Corp. are testing the waters, while smaller, entrepreneurial publishers also are jumping in.

"The sports marketing industry is booming," said Greg Campbell, VP at Greenwich, Conn.-based consultants MacGregor Associates. "These new magazines, to succeed, are going to have to deliver a small segment of the market to advertisers."

The new titles are seeking age groups that range from midteens and twentysomethings right through to the aging baby boomers and beyond. And that has some marketers applauding.

"We're into target marketing," said Dan Albert, a media director on the Reebok account at Leo Burnett USA, Chicago.

Hearst and ESPN are apparently close to launching a monthly that will appeal to a twentysomething audience with coverage of new sports such as inline skating, as well as major team sports. Launch Editor Gary Hoenig, most recently editorial director of News Inc. and MagazineWeek, has been working for the past year and a half with the fledgling Magazines Enterprise unit, headed by President John Mack Carter.

To get the green light, the project must receive the blessing of ESPN-expected sometime in the next two weeks.

On this playing field, Hearst may find itself battling Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which last season started broadcasting NFL games on Fox. Currently, News Corp. is studying an idea brought to the company by Michael Caruso, former senior articles editor at Vanity Fair.

A News Corp. spokesman confirmed that a sports title "is being studied," but emphasized that "nothing is definite."

"I think it says there is room in the market for magazines other than Sports Illustrated," said Jay Burzon, VP-sales at Inside Sports, which is pondering an increase in its monthly frequency.

So far, definite new players include:

NBA Playbook from Conde Nast. The publisher, through its Street & Smith's subsidiary, plans to produce a 610,000-circulation annual aimed at high school basketball players. So far, Coca-Cola Co. has paid $28,000 for a page ad featuring Sprite. Also in the works is a title aimed at high school football teams.

Sports Traveler, a start-up that makes its debut in September. Aimed at women with a median age of 35 and household income of $53,000, the magazine is the brainchild of publishing veteran Polly Perkins (ex-publisher of Bon Appetit and Elle Decor) and the newly formed MC Inc.

Prime Fitness & Health from Weider Publications, aimed at men 35 and over. The title hit newsstands Feb. 28, with a second issue slated for September; quarterly publication is planned for next year. The launch follows the debut last September of Living Fit, aimed at women in the 35-plus segment. A color page in either title costs $6,500, and each sells for $2.95 on newsstands.

New York Sportscene from MM&B Publications, Central Islip, N.Y. This regional magazine is slated to hit newsstands in the New York metro area May 1. The focus is the area's nine professional sports teams and major college sporting events. Even though the magazine is promising a guaranteed rate base of only 50,000 copies on a 125,000 distribution, MM&B founder and President Mike Cutino hopes local merchandising and promotion opportunities will help attract ad dollars. A color page is $7,800.

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