Sporting News places its bet on the future of the tablet


Sporting News has been through many transformations over its 125-year-old history.  It is a brand that has evolved from a weekly newspaper into a bi-weekly magazine, a free Web site based on trending sports topic, and a paid daily product for tablets, smartphones and Web users. Geoff Shaw, vice president/digital media, discussed the Sporting News' past as well as its future direction.

Shaw said that Sporting News had to find a way to be different from other sport news outlets such as ESPN and Yahoo who receive about 5o million views a day.  The Sporting News online magazine wanted to build an online fan base as successful as its print edition, with more than 200,000 followers. The online news source reached about 8 million views per day with between 30 and 70 pages of content on the Web.

Shaw said it was contemplated whether to begin to charge people for the online content, but said that Sporting News had a hard time getting the traditional magazine buyer to subscribe to the online magazine. As far as advertising sales, digital buyers wanted high numbers (click counts) from Sporting News, and Shaw said that they couldn’t deliver.

This led to the decision to transition to the iPad. Shaw said Sporting News fit the niche for the iPad because it was a daily online magazine. The Sporting News stand-alone app was launched in September 2010. The initial plan was to charge US$2.99 a month, less than 10 cents a day. The intention was to give users who were interested a free trial, with hopes that they would become subscribers.

Among the consumers targeted by Sporting News:

  • People who live in big cities such as New York City, Chicago and Washington D.C. because these users have a lengthy daily commute and would spend more time on their tablets.

  • Business users who travel often. Sporting News is hoping that during their travels, they will spend time on their tablets looking at the app.

  • College students were also another targeted audience. Theoretically, Shaw said, while not paying attention in class Sporting News hoped that they would spend time looking at the app.

From that target audience, Shaw said he observed three different groups: people who will pay the US$2.99 a month, people who just aren’t willing to pay, period; or people whose attitude is, “OK, I will try you out using the free trial, but as soon as that’s over I’ll ditch it.”

In the United States, there was a high download rate when Apple featured the Sporting News app, but it didn’t turn into a high subscription rate. Shaw said there were lots of challenges because the app was displayed as a PDF.
“Trying to take the advantage of a touch device with a flat image (PDF) is difficult,” Shaw said.

The failure of the first launched Sporting News app motivated Sporting News to redesign. The new app will launch in September 2011. This will be a free app with custom content available to the users who may be willing to pay for specialty content. For example, during Super Bowl week Sporting News may offer 30 extra pages of content to entice fans to purchase the extra bit of information. Or, if a user is not an a basketball fan, Sporting News wants to completely hide that basketball section, so the user wouldn’t even have to view it.

 “We want to be the one-stop shop for sporting fans,” Shaw said.

The plan is to “publish” the content at 6:00 a.m. each day so there will be time to go in and add or edit content throughout the day.

“We believe that Sporting News is more successful as free content, with upsales with specific content geared towards the user,” Shaw said.

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