‘USA Today’ Debuts High School Football Mag

'Prime' to roll out in 11 pigskin-loving markets across the U.S.

This weekend, high school football fans in 11 markets across the country will have the chance to see their favorite local stars highlighted in Prime, the debut magazine from USA Today Sports. The color insert, of which 550,000 copies will be distributed in-school or with Gannett newspapers in select cities from Washington, D.C., to Phoenix, covers both national rankings and local players.

While high school athletes may not have the nationwide recognition of their college (or professional) counterparts, USA Today Sports president Tom Beusse says that they’re often just as important within their community.  “There are 12 NFL games every Sunday. There are 7,000 high school football games every Friday night in this country,” said Beusse. “It’s a phenomenon like nothing else.”

These young players are also eager for any chance to compare themselves with other players across the country, said Beusse. Thanks to the Web, he said, “there has developed a global set of metrics on what is excellence.”

USA Today already offers a high school sports vertical on its website—the newspaper has been covering high school sports since its launch in 1982—but rather taking the easy route of integrating local football coverage into the Web mix, Beusse thought it was important to offer readers a physical product. “We realized that we have this tremendous distribution through print around the country, so why not create magazines that are essentially keepsakes?” he said. “Local newspapers are continuing to try to provide a more robust news offering for consumers, and if we can drop in a color magazine that their kids care about, it delivers on the value proposition.”

Every issue of Prime will contain the same national content, like a gear guide and nationwide rankings, while each market-specific edition will also have its own local stories and preseason lists. Likewise, both national and local advertisers will be featured in the magazine, with USA Today taking care of national sales and the local Gannett papers covering ad sales in their own markets. Certain advertisers, like American Family Insurance, the first company to buy naming rights to the All-USA team, will tailor its message to readers on a market-to-market basis.

If the launch of Prime proves successful, USA Today could expand the platform to other sports, with basketball being the next likeliest candidate, said Beusse—although he’s clear that the magazine’s goal won’t be “to identify the next LeBron James” like other national high school sports coverage.

“What we want to do,” he said, “is serve the community so that the kids who are never going to be LeBron James, but who are very important to their local teams, are getting recognized.”