Media: All about ... Sport magazine

The demise of the weekly handout is a sign of the times.

The cover boy on what turned out to be the last issue of Sport magazine was Rory McIlroy, a 19-year-old Ulsterman tipped for golfing greatness - as good, pound for pound (some said), as Tiger Woods at the same age. The Masters was about to make him a star.

But the major tournaments, played on the world's toughest courses, can be unforgiving - as was amply illustrated by McIlroy himself. He went into meltdown on the final holes of his second round, four-putting the 16th before failing to get out of a greenside bunker at his first attempt on the 18th, flirting with outright disqualification as he did so.

He missed the cut and trudged home with his golfing tail between his legs. McIlroy can reassure himself that he may well be back. Sport magazine has no such consolation. Last week it missed its own version of the cut and (barring miracles) will not be back. Not for the foreseeable future, at any rate.

The world of sport, in which the tenets of Darwinism are acted out in uproariously melodramatic fashion, is a strangely sentimental domain - and Sport, a weekly newsprint magazine distributed free to London commuters at Tube stations, gyms and health clubs, will be missed by its readers and subjects alike.

But the business world, which is less prone to dangerously unsound emotion, will perhaps agree with the assessment of Sport's managing director, Greg Miall, who pointed out that the downturn had removed any vestige of hope where profitability was concerned.

"Sport was ahead of its business plan last summer," he revealed, "but no-one launches a company with a business plan that includes the worst recession for 80 years."

He has a point, obviously. Sport's audited circulation, built steadily since its launch in September 2006, was 317,257 and, during the good times, its readership figures translated into an attractive proposition for advertisers such as Adidas, Lloyds, O2 and Sony PlayStation. Now they've stopped spending.

Efforts to find a buyer for the magazine have been continuing; but, in the interim, the industry will have cause to mull over Miall's analysis.

They'll ponder whether Sport's demise is a tale of a good product following a good model - but undermined by outrageously exceptional circumstances.

Or, alternatively, whether the model itself is a bit like a temperamentally flawed golfer when faced with a slightly tricky bunker shot.

1. Associated Newspapers' Metro, which recently celebrated its tenth birthday, has a nationwide circulation of 1,335,627 (February to March 2009), including 733,284 in London. Based on a format and business model first pioneered by Metro International in Stockholm, it became the template for a new type of free publication in the UK - a high quality, easy-to-digest editorial product aimed at an upmarket commuter demographic in the mornings and financed entirely by advertising. But the future for Metro is interesting - its ten-year distribution licence with Transport for London has expired and the tender process for a new contract may attract rival bidders.

2. And the London evening free market is already highly contested, with two titles each losing an estimated £18 million a year. London Lite, again from Associated, has an ABC of 400,547; while the figure for News International's thelondonpaper is 500,949. London Lite launched in late August 2006; its rival a week later.

3. The financial news freesheet City AM, which launched in 2005 for workers in (and travellers to) the Square Mile, announced in December that it was postponing plans to expand into Edinburgh and Manchester. Its ABC figure is 104,493.

4. ShortList, a free weekly men's lifestyle magazine that launched in September 2007, is distributed in Britain's major cities via train stations, bus terminals and NCP car-parks and has a circulation of 505,970. Back in March, it was exploring the possibility of launching a sister title aimed at women - but plans will almost certainly be on hold given the current economic climate.

5. The free model is under pressure the world over. Metro International, which followed its Stockholm venture by rolling out similar titles in around 100 cities in 20 countries, reported a net loss of £8.6 million over the final quarter of 2008 and closed its Spanish operation in January.



- Sports junkies at large were the only real winners during Sport magazine's brief life - a sum total of 114 issues.

- The explosion we've seen recently in sports chatter on the internet has not been good for printed sports coverage. On the one hand, there are a million bloggers out there with their outrageous (and often outrageously funny) opinions; and, on the other hand, more generalist sites have chosen to meet the challenge of producing a story every ten minutes round the clock by disseminating endless streams of trashy gossip.

- Print, perhaps inevitably, has tended to devalue its own currency in response. Sport magazine's intelligent, feature-led approach has helped to redress that balance somewhat - and the sports sections of newspapers have freshened up their act.


- "This is a wake-up call," Dominic Williams, the press director at Carat, says. "I think we'll see more closures this year. Free newspapers will find it difficult. Both of the London evening frees are losing significant amounts of money - how long can that go on?"

- And it's not just about frees versus paid-fors. Williams adds: "The problem is that there are just too many magazines for both advertisers and readers alike. But good titles will always survive. And by good, I mean good as a package - good editorial team, good sales and good team management."


- Less choice - but then this will always be a market where supply is directly determined by demand.