CAMPAIGN REPORT ON FOOTBALL: Footie publishing reaches fever pitch - The huge market for football titles may be in robust health but press buyers are warning of saturation, Belinda Archer writes

The temptation to indulge in elaborate footie-style metaphors is irresistible. Phrases about publications being ’shown the red card’, ’scoring hat-tricks’ or even ’doing a little dirty tackling’ are hard to avoid when analysing the football magazine market - one which, I feel bound to point out, is ’cheek to cheek on the terraces’ if not ’full to capacity’.

The temptation to indulge in elaborate footie-style metaphors is

irresistible. Phrases about publications being ’shown the red card’,

’scoring hat-tricks’ or even ’doing a little dirty tackling’ are hard to

avoid when analysing the football magazine market - one which, I feel

bound to point out, is ’cheek to cheek on the terraces’ if not ’full to


But then football is a sport that commands a passionate, fanatically

dedicated following, and it seems almost churlish not to embrace those

terms with the gusto of the genuine football fan.

In fact, the print media sector covering the beautiful game is in such

robust health, it is the publishing equivalent of Liverpool FC’s new

talent, Michael Owen, or West Ham’s Rio Ferdinand: young, vibrant and

full of promise.

Over the past two years, the market has exploded and now includes more

than 70 publications, ranging from weekly teen titles to glossy

monthlies for adults, and from crude fanzines to ambitious club

magazines with newsstand distribution. At the same time, the national

press has increased its coverage of football enormously.

In the past 18 months alone, the sector has welcomed two new monthly

titles, fitba, focusing on Scotland, and On the Ball, covering women’s

football, as well as a delegation from Italy’s leading sports newspaper

publisher looking to launch a football-led sports daily in the UK based

on La Gazzetta dello Sport. In May last year, Chelsea hired Paul

Hawksbee, the editor-in-chief of IPC Magazines’ football titles, to

re-establish Football Monthly, the title bought by the club in April


The British public, it seems, cannot get enough column inches on the

game, and there are several reasons for this relatively new


Jason Dear, agency sales manager for Haymarket Publishing’s FourFourTwo,

singles out one major contributing factor: ’The market has exploded off

the back of the Taylor Report, which sent the hooligans away, brought

families back into the stadia and raised the profile of fans from C2DEs

to ABC1s,’ he says.

The Taylor Report, drawn up after the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy in which

95 fans died, stipulated that stadia had to be all-seater by the end of

the century. But, by the 1995/1996 season, all the Premiership and First

Division clubs had converted, driving away the more violent, undesirable

fan element, which refused to be contained in seats and could no longer

afford the drastically inflated ticket prices. Estimates suggest the

cost of an average Premier League club season ticket rocketed by 40 per

cent after Taylor’s recommendations were implemented. Chelsea, for one,

charged pounds 479 for a seat at all of the team’s home matches last


The arrival of a ritzier crowd caught the attentions of smart publishers

with a keen eye for a new opportunity. Publications such as FourFourTwo,

Goal and Total Football were soon launched, unashamedly targeting posher

fans with their high disposable income and desire for more intelligent,

in-depth footie analysis. The national press, detecting a potentially

lucrative market, began to launch increasingly comprehensive football


Now, all the major national papers have a dedicated sports section on

Mondays, while titles such as the Guardian and the Telegraph have

separate sports supplements three times a week.

’Sport as a whole, with soccer a big part of that, has been a major

driver for new readers and a younger, male ABC1 readership over the past

ten years,’ Hugo Drayton, marketing director of the Telegraph group,


The Telegraph can add as many as 40,000 extra readers on Wednesdays when

the results of its phenomenally successful Fantasy League are published.

’This is evidence, if evidence were needed, of the role of football in

our readers’ lives,’ Drayton says.

Another key factor behind the sport’s robust print media market is the

increased TV coverage on offer since Rupert Murdoch won the rights to

Premier League football in May 1992, and started broadcasting the

following August.

’The impact of Murdoch and Sky TV cannot be overestimated,’ Tim

McCloskey, deputy managing director of BMP Optimum, says. ’The explosion

in coverage means you can now get games five or six days a week. As a

result, football has become more of a talking point - even at dinner

parties in Islington.

The more people watch it on TV, the more they talk about it and the more

they want to read about it: it is a self-feeding thing.’

Other people argue that the increased TV coverage has meant there is

money pouring into the game, making the grounds safer, more attractive

and rendering football fashionable - even bourgeois. ’It is far removed

from the grey game watched by grey people on a grey day that it once

was,’ McCloskey says. ’Football has become more showbizzy and glamorous

with the likes of David Beckham and Teddy Sheringham achieving gossip

column status.’

Another reason for the healthy development of the market is the

performance of the teams themselves in the top national and

international events.

The football publications market is necessarily seasonal and closely

linked with the sport. Hence, the beginning of the season always creates

heightened interest and the July to December ABC period is always the

strongest for sales.

In the years when there is no World Cup or European Championship, most

titles experience notable sales dives and associated drops in ad

revenue. Conversely, the sector flourishes when one of those events

takes place, particularly, when England and Scotland are doing well.

Euro 96 started the trend but there are understandably high hopes for

France 98 too.

’Someone once said the worst place to be during the World Cup is down

the pub on the outside of a conversation about football,’FourFourTwo’s

Dear says. ’Hence the big events really trigger extra sales of the

magazines among people who are not specific club fans but who are

massive England fans and want real soccer information.’

A major by-product of the gentrification of football and the fresh

injection of cash into the game has been the dramatic development of the

club titles. Manchester United, arguably the most famous and

commercially minded football team in the world (with an income from

merchandising alone of around pounds 28 million and a club valuation of

pounds 440 million), started the ball rolling in 1992 with the launch of

its own official glossy publication, Manchester United magazine, aimed

squarely at its five-million UK fan base.

The title, which costs pounds 2.20, sells almost 140,000 copies,

according to the latest ABC figures for July to December last year,

making it the biggest-selling club-owned magazine. The second biggest

club title is its sister publication, Glory Glory Man United, which

launched in August 1994. It is targeted at eight- to 15-year-old ManU

fans and has sales of almost 63,000 (it notched up an extraordinary 135

per cent year-on-year sales increase from January to June 1996 and

January to June 1997). Liverpool FC’s own publication is close behind

with sales of 56,352.

These titles now account for three of the UK’s top-ten selling,

ABC-audited football magazines - a dramatic change on the market,

compared with ten years ago when club-specific publications were

unaudited, rather grubby and cheaply produced.

Steve Keeney, sales and marketing director of Zone, publisher of the two

ManU titles, says Manchester United is so successful because it is

effectively a consumer title.

’Two years ago, it had almost no ads because it was budgeted to make all

its revenue out of newsstand sales. The design wasn’t very

advertiser-friendly, so it was redone to make the magazine look more

glossy and more like a lifestyle title rather than somewhere between a

lifestyle product and a fanzine,’ Keeney says.

As well as being the top-selling club title, the newsstand publication

is the second biggest-selling football title and the biggest football

monthly. Keeney believes it is the improvement in production values

combined with the fanatical following of the individual clubs that has

helped these publications take off.

’Being a real fan has become more fashionable and acceptable since the

new era of Premier League football,’ Keeney says. ’Club titles are

succeeding because they are 100 per cent devoted to a person’s team.

Everything in them is relevant, compared with, say, only 40 per cent of

editorial in other titles.’

The rapid expansion in football print media has, so far, been supported

by advertising revenue, suggesting that the different titles are

managing to provide sufficiently different audiences to advertisers.

Newspapers, for example, are pulling in a wider range of advertisers who

are keen to tactically exploit stories in the sports pages themselves

and who appreciate the daily edge the papers provide. These might

include anything from car manufacturers to betting firms, or the

individual club sponsors or major sponsors of the upcoming World Cup,

such as JVC and Budweiser.

’Advertisers were initially conservative and most preferred to be in the

front of the paper, but that is now changing,’ Drayton says. ’We are

getting car, fashion and fragrance advertisers as well as ones that are

more related to sport, because they are all increasingly understanding

the power of sport to get to a younger, more affluent male


At the same time, the club titles are attracting a different breed of

style-conscious advertisers. Despite a certain scepticism among press

buyers as to the appeal of actively targeting such a specific audience

as a single club’s fan base, the club publications attract support from

the worlds of fashion, music and even satellite TV (60 per cent of the

readers have cable and satellite TV).

Meanwhile, most of the weekly football magazines are relying on the main

client-base of sportswear manufacturers such as Adidas, Nike and Reebok,

who simply want to get people who are interested in playing footie to

buy their gear. And the glossier, more adult titles are becoming

increasingly successful at pulling in any client keen to target ABC1 men

with a high disposable income.

’Magazines such as FourFourTwo can creep onto beer and lager schedules

and maybe even car schedules, while the current issue of Shoot! usually

just carries ads for Clearasil and Twix,’ McCloskey says.

Some press buyers are sounding warnings about the future of the market,

however, claiming it is rapidly reaching saturation point and that there

is not the advertiser revenue or consumer interest to continue

indefinite support at the current levels.

’A lot of the mainstream publications are suffering because of the club

titles, and the coverage in the national press means the news is now

long-gone by the time some of the magazines come out,’ says Gareth

Williams, who mainly buys for Nissan at TMD Carat. ’There just isn’t

room for all the publications in the market at the moment.’

Particular scepticism is saved for the future survival of the monthlies,

with observers questioning the ability of the market to sustain all of


At the same time, the weekly market has already experienced some

fall-out: year-on-year sales are down 31 per cent, while last May IPC

Magazines’ 90 Minutes was folded into Shoot! and BBC Match of the Day

changed frequency from weekly to monthly last summer.

The immediate future looks fairly rosy, however. 1998 will deliver a

solid run of football through to the end of the year, including the

World Cup followed by the 1998-99 season. There is also a tight finish

to the Premiership. Sales should particularly benefit in June and July,

as well as August if England perform well at France 98.

After that, at the end of the day, Brian, it will be down to the

individual titles’ own skills at promoting themselves, competing on

cover price or correctly assessing the particular demands of their

readership. Football publishing, it would appear, is a game in two