MEDIA ANALYSIS Get ahead in the beautiful game

Football magazines can be tricky, but rewarding, titles to pitch ideas to. David Quainton looks at how creative thinking can ensure great coverage.

Making a splash: a recent Umbro photo shoot featured Deco playing underwater
Making a splash: a recent Umbro photo shoot featured Deco playing underwater

As another football season kicks off, millions of fans are preparing themselves for glory or heartache. For many, a trip to the newsagent to grab a football magazine is all part of the ritual.

Like any magazine sector, football periodicals face a threat from burgeoning websites and even extended coverage in national newspapers. But the sector is rich enough to provide myriad opportunities for the creative PRO.

In the UK there is a ‘big four’ of football magazines that have maintained hegemony for most of the past decade. In the adult market, FourFourTwo (owned by PRWeek’s parent company Haymarket Media Group) provides in-depth analysis and features on a monthly basis.

Conversely, When Saturday Comes offers a more anarchic Private Eye-style take on the sport, and has a loyal, if smaller, following.

For kids and late teens, Match Magazine appeared to win the battle waged in the 1990s with Shoot when the latter went monthly in 2000. Both offer colourful looks at the game, although the weekly Match is more news-focused.

There are other football magazines, but they are generally more niche offerings, such as World Soccer, which covers the global game.

Online trend
The concentrated nature of the football magazine market is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Five years ago there was also a booming club magazine market, with contract publishing periodicals flying off shelves. But their star has waned as clubs focus on online offerings. This is where football fans now go for up-to-the-minute news, offering potential for PROs with news-based stories.

In the early 1990s, general sport-focused magazines were very popular and the market was bigger. But men’s magazines such as FHM and Loaded ate up much of the readership, forcing some of the football specialist titles to aim for a younger audience (Match and Shoot), some to target older readers (FourFourTwo) and some to disappear altogether (90 Minutes).

The stable of magazines that survived have a loyal and knowledgeable readership, which means PROs have to work hard with each editorial pitch.

‘It comes down to the product and the idea,’ says FourFourTwo editor Hugh Sleight. ‘Email us, but do it long enough in advance. Bear in mind that we have scope for computer games and book reviews.’

FourFourTwo also interviews celebrity football fans, providing a way in for PROs with clients who are genuinely interested in football and who have TV shows or books to promote.

‘A lot of our work is with in-house teams,’ says Sleight. ‘We have a close relationship with Nike and Adidas. They tend to be closer to the brand and understand our requirements better.’

Key, then, is to know both about football and what the magazine actually wants. Sleight said one of the biggest faults with PROs pitching ideas is that they forget the magazine is monthly. A news-led launch to which national newspapers have been invited is unlikely to be successful because it could be three weeks before FourFourTwo hits the shelves.

There are no such problems at Match. The magazine’s target reader is a 12-year-old boy, although it caters for eight- to 16-year-olds, shifting more than 110,000 copies a week. It has established itself as a multimedia brand this year, with a Match Academy TV programme on Five, plus a book business.

‘Stories need to be football-based, and anything player-driven helps enormously,’ says Match editor Ian Foster. ‘The bigger the name the better. Competitions work very well too, because the audience has to interact with the copy by entering the competition.’

Paul Mace, founder of sports PR agency Macesport, argues that helping a title with the tricky job of securing access to top players is key to ensuring coverage in any national magazines.

‘Access is the holy grail,’ explains Mace. ‘For [goalkeeper glove brand] Sells, we arranged more than two hours of one-to-one interviews with Premiership keepers Anti Niemi and Robert Green. It was attractive to magazines like Match and Shoot because they were current players at the top level.’

Foster recalls an example when the Jaffa Cake brand gained good exposure through its links with Manchester United. ‘It was a fantastic endorsement, with youngsters seeing that Jaffa Cakes must be cool, and they seemed healthy because their heroes – premium athletes – were eating them,’ says Foster. ‘The photography used was great, and it meant we could use the images for glossy double-page-spreads. Some of the photography that comes with news stories is awful – if you’re paying someone to endorse your product, make sure the photo shoot is fantastic.’

Use your imagination
Quality photography is a recurring theme. Exposure account manager Jack Lamacraft, who is working with England kit manufacturer Umbro, says imagination is always required when creating a visual brand presence: ‘The magazines are often picture heavy. We recently had some great coverage for a shoot involving a new pair of Umbro boots and the Barcelona player Deco playing underwater.’

Lamacraft also recommends ‘kids’ initiatives’ – ways of getting children involved in football – as something both Shoot and Match are keen on.

All magazines, though, require time to work on ideas. Simon Breakell, sponsorship promotions manager of FA Cup sponsors E.ON, says: ‘The biggest challenge is to develop ideas that are relatively timeless in order to avoid being out of date when the magazine lands on the shelves.

An exclusive interview with a player can lose its gloss when he is suddenly seriously injured, transferred or embroiled in an incident.’

One final word of warning when approaching the editorial desk of a football magazine. A PRO working in the sector advises avoiding use of the word ‘soccer’ when pitching. The football purist does not like it, and it can betray a lack of game knowledge when promoting your client’s latest lightweight, high-tech leather boot.


Editor-in-chief – Hugh Sleight E T 020 8267 5335

Editor – Ian Foster E T 01733 468042

When Saturday Comes
Editor – Andy Lyons E T 020 7729 1110

Editor – Colin Mitchell E T 020 7261 6287

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in