We read, with some amusement, that somebody is planning a national sports newspaper for the United States. The rumor of such a launch is reported by the World Editors Forum Editors Weblog, which attributes it to Henry Scott, formerly of Metro International and now managing director of newspaper product development company Gansevoort Media.
It shouldn't be a surprise that somebody is considering a sports daily for the U.S. since a number of them have popped up in Europe in the past two years -- "Sportzeitung" in Germany, "Diario Desportivo" in Portugal and "Sport24" in Italy. But this isn't an easy niche. Two sports dailies in sports-crazed Spain ("Penalty" and "El Crack") have failed.
But could it work in the U.S.? That question was asked and answered 17 years ago. "The National," an all-sports daily published Sunday through Friday, debuted January 31, 1990 and lasted 18 months. Its editor was sports journalist Frank Deford (pictured), now with Sports Illustrated and HBO. Deford brought with him some of the country's top sports writers including Chris Mortensen, Mike Lupica, Jay Mariotti and Steve Rosenbloom. The National used the Wall Street Journal's nationwide distribution network. The paper was financed by the late Mexican businessman Emilio Azcárraga Milmo, chairman of the Galavisión Spanish TV network.
When The National folded on June 13, 1991, everyone had a theory about its demise. A recession didn't help. The growing popularity of ESPN's "SportsCenter" also had to be a factor, as it was becoming the primary source of national sports news for fans. And The National was unable to wrestle fans away from their local papers, which offered both in-depth coverage of regional pro teams and often exclusive coverage of high school sports.
Today, a national sports daily would face two more challenges -- a decline in national print advertising and competition from a number of national sports news sites including ESPN.com, Yahoo Sports and CBS SportsLine.com and CNNSI.com. These sports sites aren't just aggregators of copy generated by others — they have their own reporters getting their own scoops in real time.
Of course memories are short. And there's apparently a lot of money out there for people who want to start free dailies. Consider the fact that Metro International hasn't made a profit at any of its U.S. locations in seven years and yet a phone company from Iceland intends to bankroll one of Metro's former executives to start its own chain free dailies in major U.S. cities. That doesn't make any more sense to us than a national sports daily.