Play time is over at The New York Times

November 18, 2008

We always thought that being involved in the professional sports world was like owning your own mint… which explains why we’re not independently wealthy.

For The New York Times, it looks like things didn’t quite work out. FishbowlNY broke the story that the Times was shutting Play magazine. Here is the blog quoting Play Editor Mark Bryant:

In October Bryant told us Play was scheduled to produce four issues in 2009, but apparently the worsening advertising climate and the ever-sinking NYT Co stock price altered that plan.

“It was on the schedule. It was in the budget,” Bryant told us when we asked why the magazine had been shuttered so soon after both he and the Times brass confirmed it would continue next year. He later added that, “I knew everything was back under review.”

In the end, “The company needs to make some pretty considerable cuts going forward,” Bryant explained and his magazine was a victim.

According to the editor, Play wasn’t losing money. “I’m am told that last year we more or less broke even, thanks largely to the Nielsen deal for the Olympic issue,” he said. (Nielsen bought out the entire issue. It was, according to Bryant, the “largest single day sale in the history of The New York Times.)

“I was very proud with what our group did at Play,” Bryant said. “I’ve been told over and over this had nothing to do with the editorial content.”

What are those considerable cuts going forward? Various other blogs out there have talked about all sorts of possibilities, from more newsroom staff cuts to asset sales to even cutting more magazines. FishbowlNY today reports that the “other magazines” part is not so. The blog quotes NYT magazines editor Gerald Marzorati, talking about Play and the nasty ad environment:

“While Play was an admired and respected editorial product by many people in the building starting with Arthur Salzberger Jr., it had never made money… [and] looking ahead two three years, it was clear to me and others that it wasn’t going to make money.” According to Marzorati, sports magazines rely heavily on auto advertising, especially from American car manufacturers, and the prospects for revenue from these sources look dim, which didn’t bode well for Play.

And here’s Russell Adams at The Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Marzorati, who conceived the idea for the magazine during a flight delay in Boston’s Logan airport, said having to call editor Mark Bryant last week to say the magazine was closing was the “hardest professional call I’ve ever made in my life.”

With the Times laboring under a bucketfull of debt, ebbing cashflow and a potentially cranky hedge fund manager, there may be plenty more opportunities to make some hard professional calls.

(Reuters photo: Chicago Bears Mark Anderson and Anthony Adams sack New York Giants Eli Manning in Chicago)

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[...] And here I always thought those glossy quarterly mags the Times publishers were meant to be cash cows. I guess sports dollars aren’t on the same [...]