NFL hands off custom magazine to Time Inc.

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The National Football League is close to turning over distribution and some editorial control of its magazine, NFL Insider, to Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated, executives close to the situation said.

The NFL's contract with its current publishing partner, Primedia, is up after the Jan. 26 Super Bowl, and signs of mutual dissatisfaction with the current arrangement are not hard to come by.

A Primedia spokesman confirmed the company would exit the partnership, and added the magazine was unprofitable for Primedia. An individual close to the NFL said the deal was mutually terminated in August, and that the NFL was leery of Primedia's debt-heavy status. One executive close to Primedia said the company had tried to exit the deal for a year-roughly the timeframe for when some discussions with Time Inc. began, said people familiar with them.

A league spokesman declined to comment other than to say, "We are pursuing potential partners." Sports Illustrated spokesman Rick McCabe said, "We have had conversations with the NFL but that's the extent of it."

No agreement between Time Inc. and the NFL has yet been reached, but two executives involved in the negotiations said the deal will happen soon. While an executive involved in the situation said that under Time Inc. the magazine would be run akin to a custom-publishing operation, it would nonetheless be grouped corporately with SI-related properties.

NFL Properties will likely retain the majority of the editorial portion of the magazine. An executive said that SI would produce limited editorial content for NFL Insider and would not include any of the top SI writers who currently cover football, such as Peter King and Paul Zimmerman. NFL Insider has traditionally been staffed by the league's editorial office on the West Coast and from writers, such as veteran Vic Carucci.

The deal would not be huge for Time Inc. NFL Insider's revenues are below $8 million, said an individual familiar with the title. It publishes only four times during the season (September through February). NFL Insider has a built-in circulation base of 1.2 million-that being the number of subscribers of the NFL Sunday Ticket pay-per-view package on DirecTV, who receive the magazine as part of their subscription package. An additional 100,000 customers also purchase the magazine at newsstands, pushing circulation to 1.3 million.

That circulation base has not resulted in an ad-fat publication, however. In 2002 NFL Insider's ad pages were down 25.2% to 115.3, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

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