New-look Sporting News goes on attack for hard-core fans

Media Watch

December 09, 1997|By MILTON KENT

Every week, John Rawlings, editor of the Sporting News magazine, fights the proverbial David vs. Goliath battle with Sports Illustrated, with a pending clash on the horizon in March when ESPN unveils its bi-weekly magazine.

Rather than retreat from the fight, the Sporting News is getting a bigger collection of rocks for the slingshot, first by shrinking the physical size of the publication and by going after a hard-core audience.

"Sports Illustrated is much bigger than we are, and we're never going to have the promotional vehicle that ESPN has, so we have to be a little smarter," Rawlings said.

A word of disclosure is in order here. The Sporting News, like The Sun, is a publication of the Times Mirror Corp., and a number of Sun writers including this one, have written for the Sporting News.

In fact, the resources of Times Mirror, whose flagship publication is the Los Angeles Times, will be brought to bear to aid the Sporting News.

For instance, the magazine, which currently has only two distribution plants, will be distributed out of the Times plant in January, with the hope that other Times Mirror papers will distribute the magazine in the future and promote the Sporting News in their pages.

The 111-year-old Sporting News, easily the oldest sports magazine, will need all the help it can get, given that its weekly circulation is about 515,000, a far cry from Sports Illustrated's 3.1 million.

The new magazine looks more like most magazines rather than the newspaper that the old Sporting News resembled. Just as importantly, following what Rawlings called "the most comprehensive" research in sports publishing history, the magazine will cover the "Big Six" team sports -- the NFL, college football, Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL and men's college basketball -- and very little else, on the theory that the 33 million people in the United States who think of themselves as serious sports fans want just those sports and very little else.

"It was very, very clear what hard-core sports fans wanted and we want to give them that," Rawlings said. "You could say that it's not very politically correct, but there's a real hunger for the hard-core sports fan."

Polling data

If you saw ABC's promos for Sunday's Maryland-Kansas basketball game, you noticed that they didn't include a mention of the Terps' No. 23 ranking in last week's poll, and listed the Jayhawks as ranked third in the country, as opposed to No. 2.

That's because the network was using the coaches poll, which is sponsored by ESPN, its subsidiary, and USA Today rather than the Associated Press' survey of writers and broadcasters. But ABC never said anything about which poll it was citing, leaving curious viewers in the dark.

ABC isn't the only one to play poll footsy this year. During the week leading into the Florida-Florida State college football game, when the Seminoles were ranked atop the coaches poll but were No. 2 in the writers poll, CBS conveniently called Florida State No. 1 but never said what it was basing it on.

In both cases, the networks were correct but full disclosure would be infinitely more preferable in the future.

Sounds of silence

Have you noticed how much televised sporting events are starting to sound like video arcades?

We're speaking of the trend of networks to toss in a jingle when they pull back the game action on the screen to run scores across the bottom. NBC and ESPN were among the first, then followed by Fox.

Now, CBS has added its own sounds, with one little ditty for college football and another for college basketball.

Enough already. How about a little quiet with our information, huh?

Pub Date: 12/09/97

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