For as long as most of us can remember, the debate about the viability of a national sports paper has rumbled on. Its advocates cite the success of Gazetta and L’Equipe as the role model and its detractors point to how well the nationals already cover sport and the growth of specialist magazines.
Four days before the launch of Sport First by Parliamentary Communications, and after a long and possibly painful gestation period, I wonder what the long-term potential for the title is?
From a reader’s perspective, to succeed it has to be different from the current efficient and comprehensive diet. It’s easy to play editor, but it seems that a cross between an intelligent fanzine – without the scatological humour – and Fever Pitch – without Nick Hornby’s sense of the melodramatic – might be a start.
To win it has to be better than Express Sport, comprehensive but leaden. The quality choice on Sunday is immense, with the Sunday Times, Observer and Independent on Sunday offering a mix of reports, feature articles and great photojournalism that add to the main product offering. They are created by top journalists who have built up their credentials over a long period of time and have innumerable contacts.
Monday offers a plethora of alternatives to the Sundays with The Telegraph quite rightly seen as pioneer with everything from the main events to the results of the match at Bisley.
As an alternative to all of these, there’s the Friday Guardian. Top journalists with quirky and incisive views on issues behind the headlines and, of course, Darren Tackle.
The temptation to put that lot in a pot and believe it’s possible to make a great paper is one, I’m sure, that will not be fallen into. My editorial advice after assessing the competition is still to be different.
The contribution that sport now makes to newspapers and magazines is huge. The capacity for sport to unite and divide, offer praise and scorn, is an inbuilt long-term recipe for success.
The editorial and advertising staff at Sport First must now be feeling pre-match nerves. What will their bigger and better financed opponents do? How much spoiling will go on? Will the advertising and media world play hard ball and try to score cheap points and put the pressure on early?
My advice would be not to worry about the opposition, play your own game and surprise them. The media world should look to play long term, see this launch as innovation and give it a try. When target groups are self-defining by attitude and interest, a paper that is totally focused has to be a welcome addition to the market.
Sport First has been slow to come to the market, but that need not be a barrier to success. Funding must have been difficult and that can’t help, but I hope it does work. At 50 pence it seems to represent a no risk buy for the dedicated sports fan. So, if the editorial team are still working on the flat plan then be adventurous, get the top names like Ferguson and Robson but don’t ask them the same dull old questions. Make them interest you and they will us, and that will be a reason to come back next week. As we all know “you’re only as good as your last edition”.