When Russell Brand and his good friend Noel Gallagher teamed up to present a one-off chat show on talkSPORT last month, Brand accused Gallagher of producing nothing but mediocrity for years. In turn, Gallagher sniped that the show was Brand's "pathetic" attempt at a comeback following the "Sachsgate" affair. But as pathetic comebacks go, the whole thing proved enormously successful and the Brand/Gallagher stint at pub football banter was roundly praised and prompted even non-sports fanatics to tune in.
TalkSPORT's owner, UTV, will be hoping for a similar reception for Sport magazine, which makes its very own comeback next week. The free weekly is now part of UTV's increasingly sporty portfolio after the company chivalrously stepped in to save it from closure last month. Adam Bullock, the magazine's new managing director (a role he will combine with continuing to head UTV Sales), thinks his bosses don't have much to worry about. "I don't think it's a risk," he maintains. "The research we did when we were acquiring it showed that it was a fantastic product which was well-liked by consumers and agencies alike."
Bullock believes Sport was merely a victim of circumstance and did not fail as a product and that it was simply sunk by its French parent company, which chugged into administration. For others, the magazine's demise was confirmation that the free model, which has come under increased pressure with the advance of the recession, is essentially flawed. Bullock is dismissive of the critics: "The free model works. Sport has a good circulation and it's a good product. It has established itself in the marketplace and set a benchmark."
In fact, Sport is such a good product, according to Bullock, that it doesn't need to be changed. The brand will benefit from increased investment and having its six sales staff folded into talkSPORT's 41-strong sales team. But the editorial team remains the same and commuters who pick up the magazine next week probably won't notice any difference. Bullock is adamant that talkSPORT and Sport will operate as separate brands: "This is not going to be talkSPORT magazine. Sport is a brand in its own right. The audience it has is different and it's an audience which we will retain, ring-fence and develop."
However, Sport could benefit from having talkSPORT as a stablemate. Not only has it a new clear route to market, it doesn't have to look far to access sporting talent as there's a lot of it walking round the talkSPORT building. The station poached Stan Collymore from BBC Radio 5 Live last year and Ian Wright is a regular presenter. The station also hired Mark Saggers, the popular BBC Radio 5 Live broadcaster, last month.
Bullock, who has been with talkSPORT since 2004 when he joined from Emap to become its sales director, has ambitions to scale up Sport's operation. He will be looking to boost Sport's distribution model, which is currently very London-centric, with the aim of following in the wake of another free title ShortList and going national.
In terms of acquisitions, talkSPORT and Sport seem to be just the beginning for UTV. Bullock is busy honing what he calls a "centre of excellence" for the men's market. "We are big on men, if you'll excuse the pun," he says. The company will now try to build on its male-based brands (talkSPORT has a 79 per cent male profile) and acquire or act as sales representative for other men's brands, such as TV channels or magazine titles. Bullock says: "We rule nothing in and we rule nothing out."
Meanwhile, Bullock describes his strategy for talkSPORT as making it "bigger, better, bolder". The station is renewing its Premier League rights, broadcasting The Ashes this year and bidding for rights to the 20/20 Cricket World Cup. Bullock plans a big investment in content, personalities and more one-off shows along the lines of the Brand/Gallagher team-up.
He explains that though the station was down 18 per cent in revenues this year, it has suffered less than the radio market as a whole and has benefited from "huge incremental growth" in the past five years. He also points to healthy listening figures, with 2.2 million listeners in the first quarter of this year. The station's demographic has suffered from misconception over the years, Bullock believes: "It's not all white van men and cabbies." He aims to bring it closer to Sport's demographic, which is younger and more upmarket.
Advertisers stand to benefit from the relationship between talkSPORT and Sport by gaining access to consumers across the platforms. Matthew Landeman, the head of radio at Carat, praises Bullock's lateral thinking when it comes to selling and passion when it comes to his brands: "Adam is always willing to listen and to think creatively about what approach to take."
However, Bullock is adamant that there will not be a one-size-fits-all approach to cross-selling: "There will be no shoehorning. These brands stand on their own. We will be looking to extract value and deals that work."
Bullock, a keen Chelsea fan and someone who is as happy playing football as watching it, finds it easy to be passionate about his brands. But it also helps that, as people give up many luxuries in life, cutting back on sport is a sacrifice most fans are unlikely to make. "Sports activities are a little more lucrative than most," he says. "Sport is a little more recession-proof."
Family: Married to Caroline with two children, Liberty and Melody
Favourite sports star: John Terry, captain, leader, legend
Best sporting event this year: The talkSPORT internal five-a-side, the old boys beating the youth
Last book you read: The Tools Of Leadership by Max Landsberg
Alternative career: There was a vacant position in West London that I wouldn't have minded a crack at. I work well with Russians.