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Game effort By Regina Josep

Sports Illustrated is trying out a new game plan. The Time Inc. title, which has long prided itself on providing a national perspective, will start thinking regional with its Aug. 30 Co

That week, and each week that follows during the college football season, subscribers in the nine states with Southeastern Conference schools will find a special 10-page section of SEC coverage in their copies of Sports Illustrated. The insert is expected to reach 420,000 of the country’s most hardcore football fans.
Although SI has done special issues in the past– usually previews for the Olympic Games or college and pro football seasons–this is the first time the magazine has played its selective-edit hand. It will not be the last. In the works are weekly regional supplements for the National Football League (on a division-by-division basis) and Atlantic Coast Conference basketball. A special pro golf section is set to begin in January, and there is even talk of segments for the National Hockey League and auto racing.
“In order to compete and provide more value, magazines that can do so will find it advantageous to tailor the offer they’re making to their subscribers,” says Sports Illustrated publisher Don Elliman. “The purpose of doing (selective edit) is purely reader benefit. The ad benefit is strictly tangential.”
Perhaps, but former high-flier SI could use any ad benefits the sections may offer. Hit hard by the recession and changes in Time Inc.’s magazine sales structure, Sports Illustrated has been on a downward slide since the late ’80s. Ad pages slipped 8.8% from 1991 to 1992 and were off 20% in the first quarter of 1993, according to the Publisher’s Information Bureau.
In an effort to stanch the losses, Time executives shuffled top staff at the magazine last year, with publisher Mark Mulvoy returning to his old managing editor’s spot and Elliman moving in from Time Inc.’s corporate sales side. The push into regional, selective-edit sections is one of the new order’s first efforts.
The wheels began turning on the supplements early this year after magazine distributors in the South persuaded Sports Illustrated to expand its coverage of Alabama’s Sugar Bowl victory over Miami. A larger, reprinted version of the Jan. 11 issue sold out within 24 hours, as did a special commemorative issue on Alabama’s national championship season. The success in sales and the $1-million plus profit prompted SI to explore specific editorial possibilities that could utilize Time Inc.’s selective-binding resources.
Media buyers seem receptive to the concept of special regional inserts. “What they’re doing is 100% correct,” says Page Thompson, executive vp/ media services director at DDB Needham/New York. “They have such a powerful entity, and these changes make all the sense in the world. Taking advantage of a segmented marketplace with selective sections is an excellent move.” Thompson won’t say, however, if he has committed any DDB Needham clients to the selective-edit sections.
Some in the magazine and ad industries have doubts that Sports 111ustrated’s new editorial plays will result in big financial scores. They wonder if, in a tightened advertising environment, selective-edit sections can take ad dollars away from local and regional newspapers, broadcasters and cable outlets.
They also question the wisdom of entering the specialized world of golf publications, where SI must compete against Golf Digest, Golf and Golf Illustrated. “Golf has never sold as a sport for SI,” says Dan Cappell, a media consultant with Vos, Grouppo & Cappell. “Their golf covers have been their worst sellers. Serious golfers turn to established titles.” Adds Louis Tosto, Northeast sales manager for Golf Illustrated “Golfers are peculiarly particular. They want magazines written for them by other golfers who really know the sport. I don’t think SI will have any effect on our endemic advertisers.”
There are indications Sl’s editorial employees, who will be responsible for filling the sections and were raised on Henry Luce’s church-and-state edict, are not fully behind the concept, either. Says one staffer who wished to remain anonymous: “SI has changed so much over the last few years. (The supplements) are incorporated into the edit, but I suspect their value is calculated more on the level of how they will generate advertising revenue.”
Still, SI strategists are optimistic about the new direction. “We think it can definitely pay for itself,” says Mike Davey, associate ad sales director. “The philosophy of this market is segmentation. We’re starting from an excellent edit product, we’re giving readers more of what they want, and we’re allowing a tighter fit for advertisers.”
Regina Joseph is a freelance writer based in New York.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)