ESPN to launch 'extreme' magazine

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Get ready for EXPN the Magazine.

ESPN the Magazine, the joint venture title launched by Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Magazines in 1998, has an extreme-sports magazine in development and is weighing international expansion of its flagship.

ESPN has developed a working prototype of an EXPN-branded title that would focus on extreme sports. ESPN launched, an extreme sports-themed Web site, in February 2000.

The magazine project already boasts an editor-Stephen Malley, former editor of Sports Illustrated for Kids-and pages and elements are being designed by Darrin Perry, who designed the every other weekly ESPN the Magazine.

"ESPN built what has been traditionally called the action-sports marketplace," said one ESPN executive, waxing slightly grandiose. "It's very logical we would pursue this."

Also involved in the project is the Carlsbad, Calif.-based sports-marketing agency La Familie, which represents more than 20 athletes who compete in ESPN's X Games-held in the summer and winter-and will act as a consultant. Steve Astephen, who founded La Familie, declined to provide specifics on his company's role.

It's expected that those behind the EXPN project will present a prototype to ESPN President George Bodenheimer as early as this week. There's internal talk of a test issue coming out later this year, and, if all goes well, a six-times-a-year publication beginning in October.

"It won't just be ESPN [The Magazine] with an X in the logo," said one ESPN exec. Another exec said it was too early to tell if the title would, in fact, require a new logo.

EXPN is described by insiders as similar to the main title in its mix of sports and lifestyle features, but with some key differences. The readership is expected to skew slightly younger than ESPN the Magazine's median age of 30. And instead of the sports-fanatic mind-set of the main title, EXPN will reflect a slightly harder to define mentality of extreme-sports enthusiasts.

"Football fans don't think of themselves as football players," explained an ESPN exec, but skateboard enthusiasts, for instance, identify themselves as boarders in their own right and not mere spectators. EXPN is also expected to be a smaller player under the flagship. Last year, ESPN the Magazine's ad pages dropped 3.1% to 1,498.7. Its rate base rose to 1.25 million on Jan. 1. No rate base or rate card has yet been set for EXPN.

In April, AOL Time Warner's Sports Illustrated will launch its SI Adventure edition, a 10-times-a-year special section bound into the main magazine targeting a younger and more active demographic that will focus on sports from marathons to downhill mountain-bike racing.

EMAP USA, which publishes titles such as Powder and Skateboarder under its Action Sports group, also is a sponsor of the annual Gravity Games-which, an ESPN exec said, the proposed EXPN title would cover despite its competition with ESPN's X Games.

More niche competition for EXPN lies with the TransWorld group of titles, purchased last October by AOL Time Warner's Time Inc. as part of the Times Mirror Magazines acquisition, including Skateboarding and Snowboarding and the lifestyle title Stance.

ESPN The Magazine is also eyeing international expansion, having dispatched Deputy Editor Gary Belsky-who's overseeing the EXPN project-to South America late last year set in motion plans for a Brazilian edition. And the company sees further opportunities for international editions lurking in South and Central America.

"Follow the brand. The brand is strongest in Latin America," said an ESPN executive. Two ESPN-branded channels are available in Brazil, ESPN International and the ESPN 2.

The magazine is also investigating a book deal for tongue-in-cheek anti-columnist Answer Guy.

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