Under new owners, golf titles will go head to head for share

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The leading golf magazines are polishing their clubs, poised for an off-green battle.

Pending the expected April 2 finalizing of Advance Publications' acquisition of The New York Times Co.'s golf magazines, the Times' 1.6 million circulation Golf Digest and its archrival, the 1.4 million circulation Golf Magazine, will both be under new roofs. (The latter landed with Times Mirror Magazines at AOL Time Warner's Time Inc. unit last December.)

Freed from second-fiddle status within newspaper companies, they will now scrap for any advantage among their similar middle-aged male readerships.

Reader overlap between the titles is between 30% and 35%, said Mike McHale, group media director at Publicis Groupe's Optimedia International, New York, who buys space in both major golf monthlies for British Airways. "That is quite high," said Mr. McHale, who added that overlap between the business titles Forbes and Fortune is just 12% to 15%.

"I just buy based off adults 25 to 54, and affluent," Mr. McHale said. Both Golf Magazine and Golf Digest "are pretty much similar in those respects."

For its part, Golf Magazine hits newsstands next week with a redesign, which leaves the title with a more lush look, a wittier front section and a sharpened focus on instruction.

Its executives have sharper rhetoric, too.

Asked if he had concerns that Golf Digest would now be part of privately held Advance Publications-which spends lavishly on its magazines-Rich Alfano, president of the Golf Magazine properties, said he's not sure his rival will benefit from big investments in a company focused on women's titles. "It depends on where they spend the money," he said. "Time Inc. is more sports-oriented."

Among the in-house properties AOL Time Warner can play with in this space: Sports Illustrated's demographically targeted edition, Golf Plus, and T&L Golf, published through a joint venture with American Express Co. An uber-golf portal, tying together AOL Time Warner's disparate online golf properties, is in the works for America Online, Mr. Alfano said

Attempts to stitch together properties within AOL Time Warner are just "to try to match" Golf Digest, the weekly Golf World and Golf Digest Woman, countered Tom Brown, VP-publisher of Golf Digest.


Mr. Brown would not comment on what cross-title advertising opportunities will be created under Advance's umbrella, since the deal has not yet closed.

In January, Golf Digest's ad pages rose 8%, while Golf Magazine's declined the same amount. In 2000, Golf Magazine posted an ad-page gain of 1%, while Golf Digest declined 1.8%. While both titles had flat circulation for the last half of 2000, Golf Magazine has grown circulation faster over the last five years.

Maximum Golf, the News America Magazines monthly aimed at younger golfers, has yet to have its ad pages or circulation audited. But Editor Michael Caruso said its circulation was around 335,000.

One key issue for advertisers is whether the discounts Golf Digest and its siblings provided in the past will continue. Golf Digest properties will not be housed under Advance's Conde Nast Publications unit, which has a long-standing policy of not negotiating ad rates. Mr. Brown said the rate policy for the golf properties hasn't yet been decided.

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