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5: Skateboarding nails its flips

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ransworld media's TransWorld Skateboarding has endured some gnarly scrapes since its launch in 1983, but its surge over the last three years makes it one of the fastest-growing niche sports magazines.

Youth culture's adoption of shoes and apparel inspired by skateboarding and its cousins, surfing and snowboarding, played a big role in the magazine's rise. Cable TV's growing coverage of extreme sports went a long way toward giving skateboarding brands and personalities national exposure.

Skateboarding, now owned by AOL Time Warner's Times Mirror Magazines, is high atop the niche publications catering to adolescent boys, who spend nearly $1 billion annually on skateboarding equipment and apparel.

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Offering coverage of skateboarding so authentic that "bogus" ads are routinely rejected (for example, a Nabisco Corn Nuts ad deemed uncool by editors was turned away a couple years ago), Skateboarding is the No. 1 title in its niche. The monthly also boasts the segment's most successful Web site (skateboarding.com), attracting 8.5 million hits a month.

"Kids turn to this sport in their early teen years as a way of expressing themselves. Skateboarding has started to bleed into the mainstream culture in fashion and music," says Publisher Fran Richards, 37, who joined the magazine in 1987 as a writer and can still wow 10-year-olds with his skateboard skills at the local skate park.

Skateboarding's ad pages for regular issues in 2000 increased 23.7% to 2,165.97; ad revenue grew 30.8% to $16.5 million, according to Publishers Information Bureau estimates (excluding two special newsstand-only issues). The unaudited paid circulation increased 25% to 142,000 in 2000, according to the publication's own statistics.

Although most of its advertisers hawk skateboard equipment and apparel, Skateboarding is now attracting more mainstream advertisers as its awareness broadens.

Ford Motor Co. advertised for the first time last May, buying a multi-issue package of ads for Ranger trucks as part of a new strategy targeting young men.

"Skateboarding is very influential among young men, and this is one of several extreme sports that's relevant to our core audience; eventually, we plan to sponsor at least one skateboarder," says Steve Wineman, senior account exec at Ford agency J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit.

SONY ON BOARD

Sony Corp.'s Sony Music Entertainment division is another major advertiser that bought space for the first time in Skateboarding within the last year.

Endemic skateboard advertisers often buy three page ads per issue. Podium Distribution buys multiple pages for its DVS Shoe Co., a marketer of skateboard shoes. In addition, Podium has been advertising on Skateboarding's Web site since last year. The ad there drives thousands of visitors per month to Podium's site, says VP Tim Gavin.

"We promote contests on Skateboarding's site, and from the week we started, we got a huge amount of traffic, so we had to revamp our server," Mr. Gavin says. Podium handles advertising in-house.

Although girls represent only 5% of skateboarders, Skateboarding's female readers send a disproportionate amount of mail to the magazine. The target reader is about 14 years old, "But we're always trending downward, to kids as young as 9 to 12," says Dave Swift, 36, a longtime skateboarder who, like most of the magazine's writers, is listed among its 10 staff photographers and oversees its graphics-heavy presentation. Skate-

boarding is short on copy and long on wild photos and layouts studded with intriguing captions.

The No. 2 skateboarding title, High Speed Productions' Thrasher Skateboard, also has experienced the glow in recent years from cable coverage, says Eben Sterling, Thrasher ad director, and he believes skateboarding is entrenched now and less vulnerable to the dynamics of a fad.

High Speed claims an unaudited paid circulation for Thrasher of about 112,000 for all of 2000, up about 1% from 1999. Ad pages numbered 1,125 in 2000, up 39% from '99. Though the company did not provide a dollar figure, it claims the advertising increase represents a 22% increase in revenue.

Skateboarding got an additional boost when it was acquired by Times Mirror in 1997 (see story below). The owners haven't changed day-to-day operations, but the magazine benefits from deeper pockets for investments in its Web site operations plus better printing and distribution deals, says Tim Wrisley, who oversees eight magazines as group publisher of TransWorld Media. Time Warner bought Times Mirror Magazines in October.

VIDEO DEAL

Skateboarding recently signed a deal with Best Buy Co.'s Red Line video division to produce a line of videos that will arrive in Best Buy stores this May.

Sponsorship of skateboarding events continues to be important for Skateboarding; next year the magazine will resurrect its Board Aid promotion to help AIDS research.

Competition among other titles will continue to keep the pressure on Skateboarding, but the magazine won't easily be dislodged from the top spot.

"What makes Skateboarding different is that we show a 360-degree view of the sport. Our writers and photographers are all skateboarders," says J. Grant Brittain, the magazine's senior photographer. "You can't fake a passion for this sport."

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