SPOTLIGHT ON: SPORTING LIFE: Mirror Group loses its nerve before launch of sports daily - Will the Sporting Life ever be reincarnated as a daily paper, Alasdair Reid asks

Just what is going on at Mirror Group? Is there a fresh takeover bid on the horizon? There are those in the business who believe that last week’s own goal - the postponement of an ambitious relaunch of the Sporting Life - can only be vindicated if a takeover materialises. Any other explanation for last week’s events doesn’t bear thinking about.

Just what is going on at Mirror Group? Is there a fresh takeover

bid on the horizon? There are those in the business who believe that

last week’s own goal - the postponement of an ambitious relaunch of the

Sporting Life - can only be vindicated if a takeover materialises. Any

other explanation for last week’s events doesn’t bear thinking

about.



The Sporting Life, for decades required daily reading for the

horseracing fraternity, was about to blossom into a daily paper covering

the whole sporting spectrum. The time is right, the social theorists

say. After all, if France can win the World Cup playing the Arsenal

midfield unit of Petit and Viera, the UK can have Continental-style

daily sports papers, like France’s L’Equipe and Italy’s Gazetta dello

Sport.



In the spring, we saw the launch of the country’s first sports-only

paper, Sports First. But although it has ambitions to increase its

frequency, Mirror Group, which already had the Sporting Life bridgehead,

felt it could leapfrog this new arrival and establish itself as the

leading specialist sports daily.



The project, led by Sporting Life’s managing director, Jeremy Reed, was

in research for many months. The market was studied from all angles and

there were endless focus groups exploring the type of editorial that the

target readership would go for. A series of dummies was produced and

only weeks ago senior Mirror Group management pronounced themselves

satisfied with all aspects of the project and signed off the budgets for

a 19 October launch.



More than 60 journalists have been hired, including many from regional

newspapers who have been selling their houses and bringing their

families to London. But last week, following a board meeting, came the

devastating news: the launch is on hold.



The official line from the Mirror Group boardroom is that more dummies

and research are needed. But some sources at Canary Wharf are not only

sceptical but very pessimistic about the prospects for the relaunch. As

one insider puts it: ’If you’re a mid-ranking or senior sports

journalist, are you going to come over to the paper now? Of course not -

not unless they’re paying danger money.’



But is Mirror Group right to have cold feet, even at such a late stage

in proceedings? Its rationale seems to be that a public relations

disaster now is better than a debilitating drain on resources later. The

circulation of Sport First is believed to have dwindled alarmingly over

the summer.



Its target was 150,000 but recent figures are said to have been under

40,000.



Sport First’s editorial director, Bob Harris, won’t discuss numbers but

he says the paper’s performance is bound to be sluggish in the

post-World Cup, holiday silly season. As for events at Canary Wharf, he

says he feels deep sympathy for the journalists who have been let down

by Mirror Group.



But he does admit there’s also a sense of relief: ’The truth is that we

can count our blessings. The creation of a genuine market could have

been to the benefit of both parties. But we can now do what we have to

do at our own pace.’ And Harris is convinced that there’s a lucrative

market here.



His view, though, is not universally shared, especially in the

advertising business. In its brief history, Sport First has done little

to dispel widespread scepticism.



Paul Mukherjee, a managing partner of MindShare, says: ’I can’t

understand why sports papers should expect to be successful when there’s

so much sports journalism already around. Just because it works in Italy

is no argument for it happening here.’



Mukherjee believes new entrants should be wary. ’You can’t promise a

luxurious three-course meal and deliver something that tastes like a

hamburger. It won’t work.’



Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content

Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).