The Miami-based founders of The Source and Hip Hop Weekly are betting that LeBron James and his new team, the Miami Heat, will be so popular nationally that 20 or more pages of Heat coverage every issue will attract readers from all over the country.
“The Miami Heat are poised to become a franchise on the level of the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, the Showtime Lakers of the ’80s — teams that have broad appeal, that have followings beyond their local markets,” said David Mays, publisher of Hip Hop Weekly, which he started along with Raymond “Benzino” Scott.
As told to AdAge, the first issue of the monthly magazine, called Skyboxx and arriving on August 3, is almost entirely devoted to King James, whose Cavaliers uniform on the cover can be peeled away to reveal a Heat jersey underneath.
The new magazine is also meant to skew slightly more female than other sports magazines in the U.S. by including significant amounts of style and lifestyle coverage. Women make up 23% of the Sports Illustrated audience, 21% of ESPN the Magazine‘s audience and 17% of the Sporting News audience, according to a recent round of GfK MRI research.
“You’re going to get good sports journalism but you’re going to get it meshed with a celebrity weekly format that will attract a broader audience,” he said. “When I say format I mean the look and feel of those magazines — shorter stories, bigger pictures, more provocative headlines and lots of style and lifestyle photos.”
However, there are still many out there who doubt this strategy. The Yankees, Cowboys and Lakers are brands that took decades to build, said Darin David, an account director at the Marketing Arm with 20 years of experience in sports marketing. “For the Heat to jump into that mix can’t just happen overnight, especially because there’s been a lot of backlash too,” he said. “A lot of people said they immediately became Heat fans when LeBron went there, but many people also said they’re not LeBron fans any more because of the way this went down.”
It’s not clear, either, that women who aren’t sports fans will buy a sports title even with a heavy emphasis on lifestyle and entertainment, said Larry DeGaris, associate professor of marketing and director of the academic sports marketing program at the University of Indianapolis.
“There are a lot of women sports fans, but they’re sports fans — they’re not too different from male sports fans,” he said. “They want to read about sports and they’re less concerned about what LeBron is wearing.”
“You’re going to have a tough time getting non-basketball fans to read about basketball or care about players,” he added.
Mr. Mays disagreed. “Athletes have become some of the biggest celebrities on the planet Earth, more so than they ever have been before,” he said. “There’s a great interest in celebrity news. So our idea is basically to take that format and apply it to athletes.”