Everyone knows where ESPN’s point of attack will be when it launches its biweekly sports magazine in March. The median age of the readers of Sports Illustrated is just over 36 and rising. ESPN is shooting for someone much younger. “Their target audience is the heart of the baby boom,” says ESPN Senior Vice President John Walsh. “We want to get the next generation.”
A sizable chunk of that next generation watches ESPN. Nearly half the viewers of “SportsCenter” are males under 35. And, according to ESPN research, as much as 70 percent of that audience doesn’t read Sports Illustrated.
“No one is talking to the young age group the way they want to be spoken to,” says publisher Michael Rooney. “Nobody’s paying any attention to them, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Conventional wisdom says that generation, weaned on television, doesn’t even read. “I just don’t believe it,” says John Skipper, general manager of ESPN Magazine. “They may not read newspapers, but they read magazines. Look at Spin, look at Vibe. They each have a half-million circulation.”
ESPN is thinking a lot about those two magazines because they, too, took on an established, seemingly impregnable magazine - Rolling Stone - and found audiences. Younger audiences.
Like Spin and Vibe, ESPN Magazine intends to be visually arresting and fast-paced. It will have the same oversized dimensions as Spin (10-by-12). It will cover the major sports but also “extreme sports” popular almost exclusively with a younger audience - snowboarding, in-line skating, street luge. The articles will have the same wise-guy sensibility as ESPN’s television. They’ll also be short.
“We’ll play to the attention span of a younger audience, and that’s short,” says Walsh.