Newspaper gambit pays in 'super' win

There were two elements of last Sunday's Super Bowl that seemed to defy logic.

There were two elements of last Sunday's Super Bowl that seemed to defy logic. The first: New York Giants' wide receiver David Tyree quite literally caught a huge third-down pass by trapping a ball between his hands and helmet. The second came when Giants players held up the cover of New Jersey's The (Bergen County) Record paper, which had the headline "Giants win!" in bold type, just moments after the game ended with the Giants' unlikely victory.

The truth was that the cover held by players like defensive end Michael Strahan was not real. It was a fake front cover distributed by the paper's editorial and marketing staff days in advance, just in case the Giants shocked the world by beating the heavily favored New England Patriots.

"If they don't win, you've lost a little time and money," Frank Scandale, editor and VP of The Record, says, of the logistics surrounding such a gambit. But if the home team wins, "the payoff is terrific."

Scandale says that the cover has resulted in a surfeit of attention from the media.

"Ours got into the right hands. [Record papers] were all over the NFL station, Fox, and ESPN," Scandale says. "People have been e-mailing me constantly."

The Record's offices are less than nine miles from Giants Stadium (despite the affiliation with New York, the Giants actually play home games in East Rutherford, NJ), and Scandale says the Giants are probably the sports team second-most supported by its readers, behind the Yankees.

Senior members of the editorial and marketing teams got together before the NFC Championship Game (in which the Giants defeated the Green Bay Packers to get to the Super Bowl) to create a marketing plan, Scandale says.

Scandale first experienced the marketing potential of the fake front, when he worked at The Denver Post, which created one in anticipation of Super Bowl victories by the Denver Broncos.

For the Giants, The Record printed 500 copies of the fake cover, putting some in the hands of its reporters and shipping some to the Giants marketing team.

"The reporters were [instructed] to put it in their backpacks and release them to Giants personnel in the event of the win," Scandale explains. If they lost the game, the reporters were told to keep them in their backpack, return home with them, and The Record would destroy them.

What Scandale learned in Denver was that while everyone wanted to hold the NFL championship prize - the Lombardi Trophy - it could only realistically be passed around slowly.

"The Giants were jubilant - they all wanted to grab something. When the Broncos won, they were happy to grab any stuff," Scandale notes, adding that he also heard that some Giants had copies at their celebration party.

It also created 10,000 editions of a four-page cover-wrap to be distributed in New York for the ticker-tape parade this past Tuesday. The paper's visibility in the Giants' celebration not only boosted its own profile, it energized the staff.

"Newsrooms really get behind something like this," Scandale says. He doesn't normally work Sunday nights, but said he had a lot of fun being in the newsroom on the night of the Super Bowl.

In addition to the national prominence, The Record - as well as every other New York and New Jersey publication - was expecting a sales boost for its Monday Super Bowl special-edition paper (most sales figures weren't finalized by press time). Scandale says these kinds of large events increase the stature of newspapers in the eyes of all consumers.

When the editorial team was coming up with the [Monday] cover headline, Scandale says, "One [person suggested] 'Super Shocker.' We were debating it and the news editor said, 'Let's face it - we're not conveying news, we're conveying feeling.'

"[During] championships and big events like that," he adds, "people say about a newspaper, 'I need it; I want it; I might want to frame it.'"

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