Last month, the Sports Mail – one of only four Saturday evening football papers still in operation in Britain – bit the dust. That leaves The Pink in Southampton, the Green ‘Un in Sheffield and the Football Echo in Sunderland. Must we accept even their days are numbered? There’s a response to that question from the Echo management …
I’ve been back on my Saturday football paper hobbyhorse. ESPN cried out for a space-filler so I updated my look at the much-missed Pinks, Green, Blues and even, on occasion, Whites and wondered about the survival prospects of those still published.
In the course of researching and writing the piece – which can be found at this link: http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland/id/576?cc=5739 – I spoke to Johnston Press about the Football Echo, published by the Sunderland Echo, as well as to senior members of the sports staff at the Sheffield Star and Southampton Southern Evening Echo.
I raised the question with Johnston Press as to whether recent changes concerning production of the Sunderland evening paper – let’s not beat about the bush, I mean cuts – posed a threat to the Pink. I see a copy most weeks and have, in a past dominated by living far away from the North East, subscribed. As I wrote at ESPN, I find it an enjoyable read. By the time I get it, however, days have elapsed since the last game and I do not always give it the attention it merits.
Even so, I was alarmed to hear there was speculation about its future. This is how Stuart Birkett, managing director of Johnston’s North-eastern publishing unit, replied and I quote him in full:
The Football Echo is a loyal supporter of Sunderland Football Club. Like any loyal supporter the paper has earned the right to criticise as well as congratulate. But there is no doubt that it’s the times of congratulation that make the City feel good and that are the key driver of success for the Football Echo.
The Football Echo enjoyed one of it’s most successful periods only a few years ago when Sunderland were taken from the foot of the Championship to winning the league and promotion by Roy Keane. A home victory at a non-televised, regularly timed three o’clock Saturday afternoon kick-off match could almost double sales compared to an away defeat. But when the team under-performs, so do sales.
Making money from Saturday evening football papers isn’t easy, but the Football Echo continues to manage it, helped by a lean, but dedicated team and a loyal core readership. The challenge of instant news on the Internet has been compounded in recent years by televised Sunday, Saturday evening and midweek games. However, the former probably also provides the greatest opportunity for sports papers to continue to serve their readers by delivering their unique content digitally.
It seems that almost everyone who follows football ‘constantly’ does so on their smartphone, on their PC in the office at lunch time or increasingly also on their tablet. The Echo’s comprehensive football smartphone app has been downloaded by around 5,000 users since its launch earlier in the year. Coupled with sales of the printed product, the combined audience is now larger than it’s been for years.
Whatever happens in the future, it seems there’ll always be an audience for the ‘Pink’ in one form or another.
You will see that Stuart offers hope for the future, but makes no commitment that the Football Echo will continue to appear in print. To leap from there to a supposition that closure is already in Johnston Press minds would be one jump too far but, again quoting from my ESPN article, it is a reassurance only as far as it goes.
See the full piece at ESPN :
In Sheffield, they’re pinning hopes on the breadth of the paper’s reach – not just Wednesday and United but Barnsley, Doncaster Rovers, Rotherham United and Chesterfield – to secure the Green ‘Un‘s future. “In depth up-to-the-minute coverage of six clubs, with full reports and news behind the scenes,” was how the editor, Ian Vickers, summed it up to me.
Sales go up, as Stuart pointed out above, when the teams principally covered by a football paper. So did Southampton’s return to the Premier boost sales of the Southern Evening Echo’s Saturday paper, The Pink? Well, the word is that things are better when the club is a division below – as, of course, it looks like being again come the summer – since most matches still take place on Saturday afternoons, not to mention there being more goals and more wins.
The demise of the Portsmouth Sports Mail is sad. One or two Portsmouth fans wrote here just over a year ago to say how important a part of the local scene the paper was. It seems now that as poor old Pompey declined, so did its paper.