Promotion is the key to failing football titles

Everton will survive for another season but Goal magazine won’t. At the end of the day, the crucial hour when all footballing questions are resolved, IPC decided that it is no longer going to publish adult football magazines.

To outsiders, the most surprising aspect of IPC’s decision may be the timing. After all, shouldn’t every football mag’s sales be soaring on a tide of pre-France 98 euphoria? Well anecdotal evidence suggests that isn’t happening, just as sales in the run-up to Euro 96 were not as super and soaraway as many publishers hoped.

But IPC’s decision does not mean the boom in football mags is over. There never was a boom. What there was was one glossy launch in 1994, my old mag FourFourTwo, which powered past 50,000 copies sold quick enough to convince other publishers there was money in football.

Soon the market was crowded with titles like Goal, Match of the Day, half of Total Sport, the ill-fated Fitba, a hundred club publications and launches with anodyne titles.

What you now have is a market worth 300-350,000 copies a month, with disproportionate advertising support and not enough copy sales.

Hence the BBC’s decision to go for a 1 cover price on MOTD, a strategy which is known in the publishing trade as “shit or bust”. The BBC certainly needs to do something as, in its last ABC figures, one in every six sales was a bulk sale. Future is rumoured to be planning to buy Goal and fold it into Total Football, which it denies, while FourFourTwo seeks to dominate the market.

The publishers themselves have not helped their cause by constantly changing the mags. Total Football has experienced numerous redesigns; the BBC has tried three frequencies for MOTD; FourFourTwo is not immune from criticism, following a summer flirtation with “laddism”.

All this activity reflects the reality that the job has got tougher. When FourFourTwo launched, established football writers had two objections: “How are you going to fill it every month?” and “How are you going to compete with the nationals?”

The first objection was transparent nonsense. The second didn’t apply at the time because even the quality broadsheets were feeding their readers a constant diet of match previews and reports. Today readers can’t move for special sports sections which, aside from the usual preview and review stuff, contain real features.

But even if the football mags get the right stories, they are consistently sold in one of the most horrific positions on the newsstand, infested with parochial rubbish and one-offs parading naked opportunism. Compare the football section of your local newsagent to the men’s lifestyle area to see what I mean.

Finally, nobody knows if the football mag market has reached saturation point because none of the titles have indulged in the kind of continuous promotion which EMAP has put into Mojo for instance, a mag which, at the last ABC, sold less than FourFourTwo.

Research and anecdotal evidence shows that many fans aren’t aware of any of these mags. This simple fact should persuade one of the publishers to put some serious money into promotion, for example 16-page mini-sections in The Guardian, or regional TV ads on Channel 4 against Football Italia. So far, most of them have opted for the easier, but dangerous, solution of sticking Posh Spice’s future husband David Beckham on the cover.


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