A sporting chance for a free magazine?

A sporting chance for a free magazine?

Just as the newspaper market was recently shaken up by the launch of free titles London Lite and Thelondonpaper by Associated Newspapers and News International respectively, so the magazine sector is about to witness the dawn of a similar revolution.

The two new London freesheets are fast closing in on their joint distribution target of 800,000 and are responsible for what is expected to be the first significant rise in total UK newspaper circulation for a decade (MW last week). The magazine market, though not in decline like that of newspapers, has recently had to provide a more substantial digital offering to satisfy consumers who increasingly prefer to access free content online.

It was unlikely, therefore, to be too long before someone launched a free magazine of similar quality to those we are used to seeing from established publishers. Greg Miall, who recently quit his job as global advertising director at Metro International – publisher of 60 free daily newspapers around Europe – is behind the launch of Sport magazine, which will be seen in the UK for the first time this Friday morning.

Lagging behind Europe Distributed by hand at 94 London Underground stations, at 333 gyms and sports clubs, at major companies’ offices, in airport lounges and on British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and BMI planes, Sport will target upmarket 18- to 40-year-old men. The London launch will have a target distribution of 320,000. The magazine will be rolled out across the UK within six months.

Sport is already successful in France, launching in Paris in March 2004. It was profitable after 20 months and it fast became the largest men’s magazine in the country, distributing 520,000 copies a week. Its publisher, Sport Media and Strategy, which named Miall as UK publishing director, believes the success will be repeated here.

The UK dummy, seen by Marketing Week, is welcomed by press buyers. Starcom Motive press director Adrian Pike says: “I’m impressed by Sport’s quality and the fact that it comes out on a Friday morning. A new sports newspaper tried to launch about six years ago but it was looking to publish on a Monday, when there is so much clutter with good sports product in the newspapers. It failed to get off the ground. With Sport, you can read it in 20 minutes on the train to work on a Friday, or take it home and review it over the weekend.”

Miall says the magazine’s strong performance on the continent will help in the UK, which often lags behind Europe when it comes to innovating through free title launches. He adds: “The free newspaper market here is thriving because of what Associated’s Metro achieved. But it only launched after Metro International had proved across the continent that the model works.

“I don’t see any reason why there won’t be numerous free magazines on the UK market by this time next year. In some ways I’m surprised it hasn’t already been done.”

Advertising spend Sport is backed with 12m (8m) investment and Miall expects it to become profitable within three years. In the 48-page launch issue there are only 12 pages of advertising. “Within that you’ve got a couple of double-page spreads, so that’s only eight or nine clients in the whole magazine,” he explains. “That means there isn’t any clutter and all our clients enjoy maximum impact and stand-out. Compare that with the current issue of GQ, which has 40 double-page spreads.”

But one press buyer adds a note of caution, saying: “Sport needs a buoyant ad market to survive and we haven’t got that at the moment. When clients don’t have a lot of money to spend, their choices of where to place ads become very safe. When jobs are on the line, they rarely choose to put money into new products.

“The fact that Sport has been successful in France means little as we have a very different market. The French have few national newspapers whereas we have 15 of them, all with top-class sports coverage.”

Mark Choueke

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