“Salacious” and “grubby” are not how publishing chiefs usually describe their leading titles, but for the Daily Sport and Sunday Sport the words are a given.
However, more than 20 years after the titles launched, pictures of naked women and outrageous “news” stories no longer seem enough to keep the punters happy. The papers’ new owner Sport Media Group has ordered a complete overhaul of the design, editorial tone and advertising strategy. But will it be enough to lift flagging sales and attract the mainstream advertisers that have for so long eluded them?
Sport Media chief executive Andrew Fickling denies that the papers want to appeal to a “new kind” of reader. He simply wants to win over more males within the wide age bracket of 18 to 55. These men, he claims, are not defined by any particular “background or colour”.
But if the papers are not trying to widen their reader profile, why aren’t more18 to 55 year olds – their supposed target market – picking up a Sport newspaper to begin with?
Fickling believes the circulation decline, which saw the Daily Sport’s weekday edition drop from almost 190,000 in 2005 to just over 100,000 today, is a consequence of a product that had become “mono-dimensional”. He adds that before it became “salacious and grubby”, “it also used to have a lot of humour and good quality content”.
As of next month, when it unveils its redesigned titles, it will be hoping to replicate the successful model of Nuts and Zoo, which proved that it is possible to create a sexy men’s title without the need for soft porn.
But while the new strategy may sound good in theory, the news has already created much scepticism among media buyers.
Their main reservation is the timing: the men’s magazine market has come off the boil. The latest Audit Bureau of Circulation’s (ABC) figures reveals drops in titles such as Loaded, Maxim, Zoo and Nuts. Added to this, the sector’s tabloid rivals the Daily Star and The Sun have also recorded year-on-year drops.
But Fickling counters that, unlike any other tabloid in the market, the Sport is the only newspaper published specifically for men and one which is consumed differently from a weekly or monthly magazine.
Mediaedge:cia account director Kevin Ayadassen says one of the key issues the Sport titles will come up against is convincing clients and consumers to change their perceptions of the brand. “The name aligns itself with salacious content and trashy news. For a twenty-something bloke to be seen reading it says a lot about that person, and that’s what needs to be changed,” he says.
Media Planning Group head of press Alan Brydon adds that even if the papers’ circulation does go up, advertisers are already reaching this target audience through other newspapers. “There are lots of other alternatives already out there. What they have to realise is we’re hardly going to rush out to clients and say, ‘We think you have to put the Daily Sport on the schedule’.”
Despite the reservations, many media buyers also say that if the Sport is able to maintain a consistency in its new approach over the first two to three months, then a tide of change among consumers and advertisers is at least possible.
Gabrielle Rossetti, press manager at Arena BLM, which handles media for Setanta, a relatively new advertiser to the Daily Sport, says it is more interested in the two titles’ digital strategy.
She believes their success will depend on a consistent approach across all of their offerings, both on and offline. And that, according to Fickling, is the group’s next priority. He says once the papers are relaunched it will look at its web and mobile strategies.