PROMO MUSCLE OF CABLE NET WILL BACK 'ESPN MAGAZINE': $100 MIL EARMARKED FOR LAUNCH OF 'SI' COMPETITOR

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ESPN is pulling out all the stops for its March introduction of ESPN Magazine, supporting the launch with an aggressive circulation strategy and promoting it via ESPN's cable TV powerhouse and its site on the Web.

In addition to marketing the new title via ESPN-branded media, it will be backed by a $1 million trade campaign and a separate consumer push, both created by ESPN agency Wieden & Kennedy, New York. Spending on the consumer campaign could not be determined.

'ON THE RADAR'

"The management at the top of the company have made it clear this is what they want to do. This is on the top of the ESPN radar," said John Walsh, senior VP-executive editor.

ESPN Magazine became a top priority for management in part because of Time Warner's June announcement of CNN/SI, an all-sports cable channel to compete directly with ESPN.

"That was the first time a print publication had come into television and challenged ESPN," said Mr. Walsh.

ESPN, 80% owned by Walt Disney Co. and 20% by Hearst Corp., which will distribute the magazine, is expected to invest between $50 million and $100 million in the launch phase.

The company, said John Skipper, senior VP-general manager, ESPN Magazine, also is willing to stick with the project until it becomes profitable after five or six years.

"We know these things take time. . . . We hope we hit a home run and it would be great if we did it in 21/2 years, but we're also being realistic," said Mr. Skipper.

The every-other-weekly will have an initial rate base guarantee of 350,000 for its first issue in March. That compares to 3.15 million for rival Sports Illustrated, the category leader. But ESPN has plans to increase circulation to 500,000 by September and 700,000 by January.

OVERSIZE FORMAT

Issues will be oversize, like Rolling Stone, and on average carry about 75 editorial pages. Newsstand copies will be $2.95, while subscriptions will average $26 a year. At the 350,000 circulation level, a color page will be $21,700; b&w is $15,190. When the rate base increases to 500,000 in September, color will be $31,000 and b&w, $21,700.

"They're both really strong brands. ESPN is not going to come in and steal away Sports Illustrated's awareness," said Paula Brooks, managing partner-director of media services at Margeotes/Fertitta & Partners, New York. "Sports junkies will read both. The sports marketing business and the consumer demand for sports information are certainly big enough for two."

Also competing in the category are Petersen Publishing Co.'s relaunched and redesigned Sport (750,000 rate base), and Times Mirror Magazines' The Sporting News (515,000 rate base), now in the midst of a makeover.

OTHER BRAND EXTENSIONS

The magazine is not the only brand extension ESPN is actively pursuing. Recent deals have been made to bring the Classic Sports Network cable channel into the fold and expand radio reach through contracts with Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association for weekend broadcasts.

ESPN Sportszone, the company's Web site (www.espn.com), is popular with the demographic the magazine will target. While synergy will not be forced, the executives heading the project said, where it makes sense ESPN's multiple media outlets will work together.

Reporters, on-air personalities and writers involved in news gathering will most likely be contributing to all ESPN products where appropriate.

"We fully intend to use our radio, television and Web products to push and promote the magazine," said Mr. Skipper.

TARGETING A YOUNGER READER

Publisher Michael Rooney said the magazine is targeting a younger sports fan than Sports Illustrated. It's hoped the younger reader prototype-based on a hybrid of Rolling Stone readers crossed with a segment of Sports Illustrated's audience that also watches ESPN-will help the new title nab fashion advertisers plus more traditional categories such as automotive, consumer electronics, footwear, liquor and tobacco.

"We feel we are servicing this market very well," said an SI spokeswoman. "Almost one in three men in the U.S. age 18 to 34, reads Sports Illustrated each week. And over the last 10 years, SI's readership in this key demographic has

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