Allen's big score: Keeping 'Sporting News' in the game

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When C. Richard "Rick" Allen joined The Sporting News in January 2003 as president-CEO, there was a general assumption in the magazine industry that Sporting News might not be around in January 2004.

Despite being purchased by Paul Allen's Vulcan Media Ventures, the nation's oldest sports magazine was having a difficult time drawing advertisers and competing with the likes of Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated and Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN The Magazine.

"When I came in in 2003, a number of things were fairly obvious," Mr. Allen said. "One was that the ad market was still soft. Two, the company was not structured optimally. We were engaged in activities that really weren't good business opportunities, interactive television in particular, that we ended up closing. And three, while you don't screw up your editorial process, we were looking intently on what we were doing, how we were covering our sports, and very definitely said `How can we do this better?"'

That was a little more than 18 months ago.

Today's Aug. 16 issue of The Sporting News will have the most ad pages in the history of the magazine, with 45. According to the Publishers Information Bureau, ad pages are up 27% through the first six months of the year-the magazine hit the mid-point of 2004 as the No.2 year-over-year ad-page gainer among all major consumer weeklies.

fashion a future

Contributing to the magazine's success have been exclusive, content-heavy advertising packages, including the Subaru Innovation in Sports program; an advertorial insert for the Travel Channel's "World Poker Tour"; Jim Beam's Character of Champions integrated program across the magazine, radio and online divisions; and a number of 16-page inserts from Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Cross-promotion of Sporting News Radio, Sporting News Books and Sporting News Online-including a unique content association with Fox Sports Online that resulted in both entities now serving as MSN's main sports portal-also helped bolster Sporting News as a magazine.

"I don't know if I thought the magazine was going to disappear, but we had the same responsibility that any business had and that was to fashion a sustainable future," Mr. Allen said.

To do that, he needed to make the magazine more attractive to advertisers. To make it more attractive to advertisers, he needed to increase circulation. To increase circulation, he needed to make the magazine more appealing to readers.

In the magazine industry, it's known as a vicious circle.

But Mr. Allen pulled it off, in part by working with legendary Sporting News Editorial Director John Rawlings on reshaping Sporting News' coverage area down to seven main sports: professional football, basketball, hockey and baseball, college football and basketball, and Nascar.

"By recognizing some things about our sports and our readers, and what we use to reach passionate sports fans, we were able to do some interesting things," Mr. Allen said. "One of the great things was having John Rawlings already in place."

`harmony and success'

"He's one of the smartest and most interesting people I've ever been around," said Mr. Rawlings. "He has a diverse business background and learned our specific business very quickly. He's been a terrific asset for us."

Mr. Allen believes in delegating authority and autonomy, and that's just fine with Sporting News Publisher Pete Spina.

"Rick is a professional who lets his managers do the jobs they were hired to do," Mr. Spina said. "Thus, you have great harmony and success."

Mr. Allen's diverse background includes a bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College and a law degree from the University of Chicago, and stints with National Geographic Society and the Discovery Channel. At both companies he helped create, extend and revitalize brands, in part by developing strategic alliances and introducing integrated ad sales.

"I'm a big believer in that," he said, "and I had some very definite views about what makes those programs successful. I hope I'm doing the same here."


Name: Rick Allen

Age: 49

Now: President-CEO, The Sporting News

Who: On the job a little more than 18 months now, Mr. Allen was formerly the CEO for National Geographic Society, where he was responsible for a wide range of media and consumer-products businesses.

Challenge: To continue to make The Sporting News a viable competitor in the sports-magazine category in the face of competition from Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine and various niche magazines.

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