Media Headliner: Sport's publisher says it's free but not that easy

Greg Miall launched a free sports weekly when others said advertisers weren't interested. They were wrong.

Sport magazine does well on the back of big sporting events. Greg Miall, the title's publisher, is in buoyant spirits following the impact of the Rugby World Cup. The title received large support from advertisers including Nike, O2 and Hackett, all of them looking to leverage their sponsorship of the tournament.

Miall had a frantic time during the tournament, especially following England's surprise win against Australia, which meant that the editorial and ad teams had to come in on Monday morning and tear up what they'd put together in order to create a new magazine by the following evening.

It's this sort of flexibility and ability to react to events that may explain the success of Sport, which launched in September 2006 and is distributed free to workers across London. Miall's involvement with the title stretches back to before its UK launch and he was on board to take the magazine to market last year, too.

Similar to other free magazines, Sport could be said to be partly inspired by Metro International, which distributes free morning newspapers across the world. Miall used to work at Metro, and it was while he was the commercial director in Paris during 2003 that he became aware of the launch of the French version of Sport.

Back in the UK, three years later, where he was working for Metro as the director of global sales, Miall noticed a small announcement that Sport was to launch in the UK. He put a call into its French chief executive and persuaded him to set up a meeting to discuss the UK launch. Following this, Miall was given the job of managing the title in the UK. For his part, Miall was convinced of its merits because the magazine was already profitable in France, and because Sport had the veteran magazine publisher Robin Miller, the former chairman and chief executive of Emap, on board as chairman.

The proactive manner of his arrival at Metro is typical of the Miall approach. He hasn't grown up through publishing, but moved into it simply because he saw it as a commercial opportunity. He began his professional life as a consultant at Bain, before joining the start-up airline Go, where he worked as Barbara Cassani's executive assistant, and then headed its business development, moving the brand into car hire and hotels. Miall then took time out to do an MBA before moving to Metro International, again sensing it as an entrepreneurial opportunity.

He explains: "I enjoy building a business up from scratch and love seeing people read something I've created. I've got too much energy and don't respect norms, so I couldn't work for the major newspaper guys - you can't behave like I do in a big company."

However, Miall admits that he faced an uphill battle in getting Sport established among the ad community. The timing of its launch, coming just after the daily sport title The Sportsman closed down, was seen by many as unfortunate. The fact that Miall and his team were not established names in the UK media community also threatened to count against them.

Gradually, though, the title gained momentum, and agencies began to buy into it.

It has now got an audited circulation of 317,093 and the number of ad pages is usually 24. Miall says that buy-in to the title was helped by senior marketers reading it and telling their agencies to get their ads into it.

But what comes next for Sport: is Miall looking at increasing the title's circulation? He says: "I could turn around and say 'let's do 500,000 copies', but the cost base goes up and do advertisers really want it? It would dilute things because we have a very specific 18 to 45 ABC1 male audience. We have created an environment that is right for the product and audience is key, not the circulation."

For similar reasons, Miall is not committing himself to national distribution of the title, which is currently distributed solely in London around Underground stations. "The issue with national distribution is that it's more expensive, the flow of people is lower so there are fewer copies distributed per person per hour," he says. "You can make money, but agencies probably won't want to pay the full rate. It's something I'm undecided about - if clients want it I'll go national, but if they don't, I won't."

Sport has surprised many observers with the quality of its editorial and some of the big name interviews it has landed. It subscribes to a new model of editorial by working closely with the commercial side of the business: many of its big-name interviews, for instance, come via the sports giants Nike and Adidas, or other brands associated with athletes. There is an agreement to feature an Adidas "property" on the cover each month, including David Beckham, Jonny Wilkinson and the All Blacks rugby team.

This model may not please the purist, but it is proving hugely successful: Sport is on course to hit its target of being profitable after three years. And, just over a year in, Miall says that he's loving the challenge. But does he envisage competition? The market has already seen the launch of the new men's title Shortlist on Thursdays in London. Miall feels confident that nobody can, or will, take on Sport on Fridays in London, leaving an opportunity for free titles on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Throwing down the gauntlet, he says: "Go head-to-head with me on a Friday morning and you'll lose."

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 33
Lives: Maida Vale, London
Family: Wife, no children
Most treasured possession: My new place. I fell in love with it the
moment I walked in. It almost bankrupted me, mind
Interests outside work: Windsurfing, snowboarding, running, cycling,
music
Most admired sports person: Robby Naish (windsurfing legend from the 80s
and 90s)
Last book you read: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Motto: Be the best