The Biz: 'SI' anniversary focuses on fans

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Bruce Hallett was president of Time when that venerable publication celebrated its 75th anniversary, which included a party at Radio City Music Hall in New York that brought together many of the newsmakers, ranging from Tom Hanks to Bill Clinton, that graced its covers.

Now Hallett is the president of Time Inc.'s sister publication, Sports Illustrated, and he will oversee SI's 50th anniversary celebration. But instead of commemorating the athletes and teams that have graced its pages and covers, SI and its corporate sponsors are instead celebrating the fans.

"Sports has helped change the face of the world. What interested us was the reason that happened in the first place was the passion that Americans had discovered for leisure time, for sports," Hallett says. "To do something that consecrated those values, to say that sports was a wonderful force for good in the world, we wondered how we could go back and say thank you to our fans, to the people who built our great business."

A year-long, fully integrated editorial, marketing and community outreach platform will be backed by $10 million in spending from parent AOL Time Warner, as well as another combined $10 million in leveraged sponsorships from three of SI's corporate sponsors: Toyota Motor Corp., consumer electronics giant Best Buy, and sportswear company Starter.

Toyota is the presenting sponsor, and although it is not an American company, the carmaker feels it has a distinct place in the U.S. market. Toyota builds more than 1 million cars a year in the U.S. and recently opened another factory in San Antonio.

STEPPINGSTONE

Moreover, Toyota is looking at this sponsor as a steppingstone to its Tundra product rolling out in the Nascar Craftsman truck series in 2004.

"The issue with all media is clutter," said Deborah Wahl Meyer, Toyota corporate marketing communications manager. "Being part of something like this gives us the chance to stand out from the rest."

Although the sponsors will have ad pages in the magazine and ownership of the online integration on si.com, their biggest presence will come in the Mobile Marketing Tour. The tour will hit a series of events during the next year, such as the All-American Soap Box Derby in Ohio and the Cheyenne Frontier Rodeo Days in Wyoming.

The tour comprises a village of fully designed, branded destinations. Custom tent structures will house activity areas that celebrate the world of sports, such as "Toyota Field," an enclosed theater that features SI's greatest moments in sports. The "All-American Teen Headquarters" is sponsored by Starter and highlights a teen hero from each state and athletic activities for all age groups. And Best Buy's "The Best Seat in the House" allows the ultimate sports fan to experience "sports" in a comfortable, yet highly digital and technological setting.

Dubbed America's Sports Illustrated celebration, it begins with the July 11 issue. On the editorial side, the magazine will celebrate a different state for 50 consecutive weeks, including local guest essayists, short profiles of sports and athletes unique to that state, as well as stats and facts. Rhode Island will be featured in the first issue. The weekly vignettes will be placed right after the Scorecard section in the magazine.

The magazine will also feature four special issues during the next year: "1954," the birth year of SI; "Covers," which will detail the iconic magazine covers; "Photography," which will look at how the medium has changed through the work of the magazine's world-renowned photographers; and "Sports In America," which examines the role sports plays in the 21st century.

"As it moves from week to week, I think it will really be anticipated," SI Managing Editor Terry McDonell said. "It gives us a chance to explain why people care about sports in a particular state and what makes them unique in those states. The question is `Why do they care and how are we moved by that?' If we get that right, we'll have done a good job."

As part of the anniversary, SI has partnered with the YMCA and the National Recreation and Park Association to help enhance the quality of sports in American communities. Separate fund-raising opportunities will be developed for each.