As Sporting News Shutters Print, Will Other Sports Titles Survive?

ESPN, Sports Illustrated have seen declining ad numbers

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Sporting News, the 126-year-old sports news publication, is officially going digital. Beginning in 2013, the title’s presence will be limited to its website, app, and six newsstand-only season preview issues.

Sporting News has struggled in recent years, slashing its frequency from weekly to biweekly in 2008, and then to monthly in 2011. Between January and September 2012, ad pages fell a staggering 78.4 percent year over year, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

“Having spoken with many of our longtime subscribers, we recognize this is not a popular decision among our most loyal fans,” publisher Jeff Price and editor in chief Garry Howard wrote on the magazine’s website. “Unfortunately, neither our subscriber base nor the current advertising market for print would allow us to operate a profitable print business going forward.”

Sporting News' fall may have have been precipitous, but the online migration of sports news wasn't limited to that publication. In the first nine months of 2012, both ESPN the Magazine and Sports Illustrated saw year-over-year ad pages fall by a respective 16.5 and 4.8 percent. With fans easily getting their news on the Web and especially Twitter, one has to wonder how long the other titles can survive in print form.

“In terms of daily commentary or game stories or stats, it’s all digital,” said Steve Madden, a former Rodale digital exec and current general manager of Sports on Earth, a sports news site co-owned by USA Today and MLB Advanced Media. “As a kid, I used to wait for Sporting News every week to get statistics. Now, that kind of information is being updated live. There isn’t a huge need for the print property.”

Still, Madden thinks it’s unlikely the major players will disappear from newsstands in the immediate future. “ESPN and SI have much bigger circulations and stronger brands, and I think there’s still a market for the print property,” he said. The increasing focus on themed issues—whether in the form of Sports Illustrated turning the Swimsuit Edition and Sportsman of the Year into event-filled franchises, or ESPN’s adopting an all-themed editorial calendar—is also helping keep these brands' print magazines relevant as their news content moves online, he added.

@adweekemma Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.