June 12, 2011

I'VE STILL GOT MY "NATIONAL" BASEBALL JACKET, BUT ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW IS THIS...:

The Greatest Paper That Ever Died: Radically brilliant. Absurdly ahead of its time. Ridiculously poorly planned. The National changed everything about sports journalism — and torched $150 million in the process. (Alex French and Howie Kahn, JUNE 8, 2011, Grantland)

Peter Price (Publisher): It all started in the spring of 1989. Azcárraga wanted to have lunch. I'd heard about Emilio from Televisa, the Mexican media conglomerate, because I was in the media business, as well. I'd become publisher of the New York Post when Peter Kalikow bought the paper from Rupert Murdoch for $37 million. When I took over in 1988, there was a strike going, the circulation had plummeted, and the advertising had disappeared. We had the challenge of rebuilding. At lunch, Azcárraga started one of the strangest conversations of my life.

Emilio Azcárraga (Died in 1997. Lunch conversation recalled by Price): I read a comment of yours that the Post is unique among all American dailies in that it has many more male readers than female readers. You attributed that to the fact that the Post was a newspaper for women and a sports paper for men.

Price: The ladies like our gossip; the guys read it backwards and hardly ever get to the front of the newspaper.

Azcárraga: That's what I want to talk to you about! Why is it that the most developed country in the world doesn't have a daily sports newspaper? We've got one in Mexico. The Italians have two. The Brits have tabloid sports papers. L'equipe in France is reigning strong, and Japan has a sports paper.

Price: There are only three national newspapers in the United States, and only one is a purely national paper with genuinely national distribution. But USA Today is going on almost a decade, a billion dollars in losses, and it's supported by a major publishing company. To do a national sports paper from scratch without the backing of a major publishing enterprise, without having a delivery system, without having regional printing plants, without having a brand name, and without any staff is not for the fainthearted.

Azcárraga: I think it's a good idea. What would it take? Why don't you give that some thought and come down and visit me? I'll send my plane.

Price: I went to Mexico on his G4. I had never been on a G-anything before. The morning after arriving in Mexico City, I was brought to the Televisa production complex. It was like being at the backlot at Warner Brothers. People in costumes, cameras going here and there, trucks moving around. Emilio's office was tasteful, not extravagant. He had his lawyer and his CFO there. There was a big whiteboard with different color markers. I wrote out the challenges, one through four.

Price (in Azcárraga's office): The first is content. In the United States, you've got dozens of local events going on at the same time. You've got to have the Mets game from last night — box scores, game stories. And you've got to have Sports Illustrated-caliber national reporting. Unless you have them both, you're not a national sports daily.

Azcárraga: So far, so good. Keep going.

Price: Next: Production. You have to produce it in color. Every metro daily is quickly adding color. And metro dailies own their own presses. We don't have printing plants, so we've got to go out and make deals with these plants who already have deadlines for their metro dailies.

Azcárraga: Good. Tell me more.

Price: Third: Distribution. We'd have to rent an entire distribution network. USA Today did that with affiliate papers and by hiring school teachers with their station wagons to deliver the paper before they go to work. But they had a couple of years to plan all of that and eight years to get it right, and they're still having a hard time making a nickel. Almost all of these metro dailies rely on home delivery. There's no way that we can get a home-delivery network going, so we're going to have to rely on newsstand sales.

Azcárraga: Distribution. Got it.

Price: Last: Marketing. When you introduce a new product, you've got to spend a mint convincing people that they really need it. We've got to reach men, which is not an easy demographic.

Azcárraga: What will it cost?

Price: Emilio wanted a ballpark figure. Knowing what it costs to produce the Post, I said a minimum of $40 million. That was just to get started. Until you turn a profit or break even it could be $100 million. Nobody else in a room said anything. No questions. No challenges.

Azcárraga: This is a good idea. We're going to do this now.

Price: What do you mean, now?

Azcárraga: Let's make an agreement within the next 24 hours. We'll sign it tomorrow. You go home, tell them you've got something else to do, and we start.


...it was a sports daily that went to press so early it didn't have box scores.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 12, 2011 6:56 PM
  
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