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
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
Michael Leapman writes on media for the Times and the Independent on
Maggie Brown is on holiday.