MEDIA: Sporting Life fails to make it out of the starting barriers

To lose one editor before a launch is unfortunate, but to shed three smacks of carelessness. That was the score notched up last week by the proposed new Sporting Life, when John Mulholland made his hurried departure, following in the wake of Alan Ruddock and Len Gould earlier in the year.

To lose one editor before a launch is unfortunate, but to shed

three smacks of carelessness. That was the score notched up last week by

the proposed new Sporting Life, when John Mulholland made his hurried

departure, following in the wake of Alan Ruddock and Len Gould earlier

in the year.



Mulholland was asked to go after the Mirror Group announced that the new

Life, restyled as a daily covering all sports instead of just racing,

will not be launched in October as planned. The former Guardian media

editor had already hired 60 journalists for the project. Mirror chief

executive David Montgomery insists that the launch will go ahead some

time next year, but the delay has fuelled scepticism about whether there

really is a viable market for a sports daily.



What sparked the rift with Mulholland seems to have been an argument

about exactly what kind of reader the new paper should appeal to. Coming

from the Guardian, it was scarcely a surprise that he saw it as an

upmarket publication, aimed at well-heeled fans in the corporate

hospitality boxes at Chelsea football ground rather than the hoi-polloi

in the cheap enclosure at Kempton Park.



His editorial hirings reflected that. Writers from the Daily Telegraph,

Sunday Times and the Independent have already been signed up. But the

Mirror Group is uneasy with the top end of the market, as its recent

unhappy fling with the Independent demonstrated. Powerful people in the

boardroom may have thought that the new paper should be aimed more

directly at readers of the group’s mass market tabloids.



The experience of Sports First, a Sunday sports paper launched last

April, is discouraging. Its proprietor Keith Young is coy about

releasing sales figures but a spokesman confirms that they are well

below 100,000 - probably the minimum needed for profitability.



The Mirror Group’s plan to reinvent the Sporting Life sprang from its

acquisition of the rival Racing Post. With the old Life out of the way,

the Post now enjoys a lucrative monopoly. Conspiracy theorists have

suggested that Montgomery may never have intended to relaunch the Life,

but was simply looking for an excuse to close it down. This can scarcely

be true: there are cheaper ways of doing that than paying off 60

newly-hired journalists.



Even if the relaunch goes ahead, neither potential advertisers, nor

Mirror Group shareholders will be impressed by the apparently chaotic

run-up to it. Meanwhile, although Mulholland seems likely to get a new

job quite soon, a lot of big names from the sports pages could enjoy an

idle winter.



Michael Leapman writes on media for the Times and the Independent on

Sunday.



Maggie Brown is on holiday.



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