Women's sports titles re-emerge

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As American women continue to fill spectator stands and make strides on playing fields, the women's sports category seems to have finally found its foothold in the U.S. magazine market.

Next month Time Inc. will officially launch Sports Illustrated for Women as an every-other-monthly magazine. The title originally was published in 1997 with two issues under the name Sports Illustrated's Women/Sport, and resurfaced last year with four issues under the current moniker.

Meanwhile, Conde Nast Publications' Women's Sports & Fitness, which launched in 1997 as a monthly only to halve that schedule in 1998, will increase its rate base to 650,000 with the March issue and move from an every-other-monthly to a 10-times-a-year frequency.

Advertisers agree timing seems finally right for the category. "I think there's plenty of room for growth," said Gene DeWitt, CEO of DeWitt Media, New York. "There's advertiser demand for reaching active women, and clearly that's what these folks are doing."

BROADER POSITIONING

Compared with fitness niche titles like Weider Publications' Shape and Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's Fitness, the sports hook gives the titles broader positioning, which ultimately holds appeal for a wider range of advertisers, Mr. DeWitt said.

Jarvis Brown, print media manager at Clorox Co., has placed advertising in both magazines and views the category as more vibrant than some of the more established general interest women's titles. "Years ago, the women's service books had 10 to 15 million more readers than they have today. Those readers have gone someplace," he said.

Women's Sports & Fitness Publisher Suzanne Grimes said that the ad categories include automotive, beauty and liquor. SI for Women, which increased its ad sales staff this year, carries automotive as well as a large amount of endemic advertisers, including Nike and Adidas.

PROGRAMS WITH CHEVY

Bridget McCarville, brand advertising manager for General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet, has built marketing programs around women's sports for its Cavalier and Malibu brands. "The women's sports magazines category provides us the opportunity to promote these sponsorships and build brand experiences," she said.

Both titles went through extensive re-examination in 1998.

SI for Women did not publish that year, but Publisher Cleary Simpson said Time Inc. fine-tuned the magazine's editorial focus.

In 1999, a special edition of SI for Women appeared with a less fan-based approach and more service pieces geared toward the female athlete, according to Editor Sandra Bailey. The magazine now is primarily a sports lifestyle magazine and will include even more service journalism. The most zealous readers in its 18- to 34-year-old target market are college-aged women for whom sports are still a big part of their life.

Conde Nast's book, originally named Conde Nast Sports for Women, also did some soul-searching after it went from monthly to every-other-monthly frequency in 1998. It doubled newsstand sales once it re-emerged that year with "fitness" added to both its title and editorial content, according to Ms. Grimes. The magazine has increased its rate base twice since its launch, jumping 37.5% to 475,000 in January 1999, and this March to 650,000.

FITNESS IS KEY

Without the fitness aspect, the Conde Nast title would not have won over the magazine's audience of young and active professional women who were interested in sports, Ms. Grimes said. "Fitness was a part of their reality that we could not ignore," Ms. Grimes said.

Women's Sports & Fitness' circulation hit 550,233 in the second half of 1999, up 10% compared to the same period in 1998, according to internal estimates. A color page is $39,000. Cover price is $2.50.

SI for Women will launch with a 300,000 rate base, up from its guarantee of 250,000 in 1999. A color page will be $21,500.

"This is clearly emerging,"said SI for Women's Ms. Simpson. "Our goal is to be here now, be here early, and have real staying power."

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