Sportsman shakes up betting arena

When betting paper The Sportsman arrives next month, it will be the first national daily to launch since The Indy in 1986. Alex Black reports on a title aimed at ‘the reader who starts their newspaper from the back page’

It is official: we are a nation of gamblers. A recent survey commissioned by gambling website 888.com and magazine Inside Edge found that four million people gamble online every month. And according to the Government's Gambling Commission, if you include the National Lottery, more than three quarters of the UK population engage in 'some form of gambling activity'.

Translate this into revenues and you are talking big bucks. The gambling industry estimates the amount of money wagered in the UK has risen from £7bn to £53bn in the past three years alone.
Ten years ago, sports betting was the domain of men in smoky high street betting shops, and poker rooms were the preserve of casinos and gangster films.

The internet changed all that. People can now bet online in many different ways without feeling intimidated. Men may follow online instructions to place a spread bet on, say, an England Test match innings total. And women can play internet poker from the comfort of their home without letting on they are a novice, or even that they are a woman.

Monthly titles such as Total Gambler, Inside Edge and Poker Player have sprung up in the past year to cater for this burgeoning interest. However, The Sportsman's daily offering is 'a separate battle ground', according to Total Gambler editor Stephen McDowell.

'It is a bold project and I wish them the best of luck, but I doubt we will be more than a blip on its radar,' he says.

The Sportsman editor-in-chief Charlie Methven says: 'Monthlies struggle to be up-to-date with information because of deadlines. In betting terms you have to be daily. If you are talking about Liverpool versus Manchester United two weeks in advance, half the teams can be injured by the time the match comes around.'

Market competitor
The advent of a new daily sports paper means the Racing Post, the UK's most established betting title, will have to deal with its first competitor since Sporting Life closed in 1998.

Neither Racing Post nor its publisher Trinity Mirror will say any more on the new rival other than 'we are well placed to serve our audience', but editor Chris Smith agrees the gambling landscape has changed.

'Our core audience is interested in racing, but we now cover sport in general too,' he says. 'Last Friday the Racing Post had 96 pages, and the back 13 pages covered odds on everything from the Winter Olympics, to the Six Nations, to Luton v Reading [in the  football Championship]. The Saturday edition has 36 pages dedicated to sports other than racing.'

Methven counters that The Sportsman's offering will be far wider than a few pages of sports that aren't racing, and will be split between sports news, sports tipping and racing. It will also comprise up to 128 pages during major sporting events.

'Inevitably, people will see the Racing Post as our nearest rival, but in reality the Post is a publication aimed at the racing industry rather than the wider sporting public,' he adds.

Although cagey about the content for the first editions, The Sportsman has already been in contact with PR agencies.

For example, Hill & Knowlton account director Stephen Markes says he has spoken to its editorial team about writing a piece on the launch of a new Adidas football boot. Although this has little to do with betting, Markes believes the article will be lapped up by both armchair fans and amateur players in the target 17-35 age bracket.

Resonate co-founder Graham Drew says that sort of target audience is 'extremely attractive' to clients such as Nuts magazine and the FX Channel.

'Getting in a daily paper with that sort of editorial agenda will be a bullseye for many clients,' he argues.

Sporting crossover
Renaissance PR MD Anneli Lort says: 'We do a lot of work on golf and I imagine younger readers of magazines such as Golf Punk will be interested in what The Sportsman has to offer.'

Another agency in contact with the paper is Jackie Cooper PR. The agency's Poker Stars account fits in with The Sportsman's promise to serve the online gambling market.

However, thefishcansing MD Dan Holliday is more wary: 'We would counsel caution to any clients thinking of getting involved early on.
'I'd be interested to see how the paper shakes out in the mid-term, and whether it can really establish its "mid-quality" positioning over a sustained period,' he adds.

This year's football World Cup will be crucial to The Sportsman in establishing its position in the market, but founder Jeremy Deedes has been quoted as saying the paper can be profitable on sales of 40,000. With the Racing Post claiming sales of between 50,000 and 180,000, depending on the racing calendar, this doesn't look to be over ambitious.

However, one senior journalist in the industry says the two publications cannot peacefully co-exist: 'The Sportsman may well be broadening the market, but the idea it won't tread heavily on the Racing Post's toes is nonsense'.

With The Sportsman already paying more than £100,000 to sponsor one of the Cheltenham Festival's most popular races next month, the battle lines look as if they are already being drawn.

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