On September 10, the second of three nights when the New York Yankees whipped the Detroit Tigers, a full moon rose over the hallowed ground of Yankee Stadium. If that wasn’t magic enough, it was the New York Post‘s night at the ball park, and the paper was giving away 25,000 binders designed to hold The Yankees Century, the 10-part glossy magazine series that began appearing as a Post insert on September 8 and continues through this week. The night’s guest of honor was Yankees Century co-editor Matt Romanoski.
When a newspaper buys a night at the stadium, part of the deal is that a team member, preferably a star like Jason Giambi, will escort company V.I.P.’s to the field before the first pitch and introduce them to the crowd. But Romanoski’s escort that night was Drew Henson, a scrub just up from the minor leagues. Some Post staffers couldn’t believe it wasn’t someone more famous, sources say. If Wednesday was an eight-error night, they joked, Henson was the ninth.
The fanfare and sniping surrounding Yankees Century is the latest episode in an ongoing turf war between the Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch, and its archrival, Mort Zuckerman’s Daily News. While the News has more readers (weekday circulation was last pegged at 737,030), the Post‘s numbers are growing faster (at last count, weekday circulation was up 42 percent in three years, to 620,080). In October, both papers are expected to announce further increases.
If finding new readers is the goal, the Yanks’ 100th anniversary this year was the perfect opportunity. The News says it got there first, with several promotional supplements, including a 26-week series of Yankees World Championship photos that have brought the Sunday edition a sustained bump of tens of thousands of readers, according to News spokesperson Ken Frydman. Then the Post followed with Yankees Century, which Post publisher Lachlan Murdoch recently predicted would increase readership by 5 to 10 percent. Post spokesperson Steven Rubenstein called the magazine a “tremendous success” but declined to release specific numbers.
Frydman quipped, “The next original idea the Post has will be its first.”
Calls to several Post staffers, including the mag’s co-editors Romanoski and Dave Blezow, resulted in no comment. Rubenstein denied that Yankees Century was an attempt to copy News supplements from earlier this year, saying, “You can tell by just looking at it.”
Given the tabloids’ fixation on circulation, it’s no surprise they are courting sports fans. Romanoski’s last big project was Sports Week, a section launched by the Post in 2000 and sold separately for $1.50 — but canceled the next year due to lagging circulation and advertising. On Sunday, April 21, 2002, the News introduced SporTV, a pullout that lists games for the coming week. Two days earlier, the Post debuted TV Sports, which looked similar but didn’t have any ads.
Next stop for hungry sports editors: the Yankees. Yankee Stadium scored a record attendance of 3.45 million last year, and so far this year, the Yanks rank number one among all U.S. baseball teams in home attendance. Seeing the anniversary as a great hook, the News began planning its Yankee supplements as far back as October 2002. Six months later, on April 15, 2003, the News delivered an 80-page newsprint insert called 100 Classic Yankee Moments. Though not as slick as Yankees Century, Classic Moments was a big hit and Post editors are said to have felt “sick” when they saw it.
Back at the News, the staff was preparing another newsprint insert, the 64-page All-Time Yankee Team, which appeared on July 15. Other 2003 specials included the Yankees championship team photos and a series of centerfolds featuring Hall of Famers, both of which are ending this month. The News also issued a glossy limited edition of its two Yankees supplements, now out of print.
According to one source, it took until July for Post editors to realize they had to do something to keep up with the News. About that time, the source says, the Post tapped Romanoski and a few others to work on the Yankees supplement, assembling the team in a secluded spot away from the newsroom in hopes of keeping the project top secret. Says one observer, “It’s obvious that the Post came into the ball game in the eighth inning.”
Rubenstein insists that Yankees Century is the result of “four or five months” of work, and that it is part of Lachlan Murdoch’s “very calculated, long-term effort” to attract new readers. Post reps told Editor & Publisher that the series cost more than $2 million to produce and promote. While critics deride the content as thin and recycled, Yankees Century is also full-color and fun to read, especially the trivia charts and archival photos. The mag is making a splash. But the question remains, can the Murdochs make any money on a $2 million giveaway?
The printing contract went to Quebecor, a Montreal-based media conglomerate and leading commercial printer that prints coupons for the Sunday Post and has a long-standing business relationship with Murdoch’s News Corp. Ironically, Quebecor is currently being sued by the News, which claims it paid too much when Quebecor printed the News‘ Sunday TV supplement on an inferior grade of newsprint. (A gleeful report on the litigation appeared in the Post on August 1.)
By contrast, Yankees Century displays state-of-the-art production values. According to Quebecor account executive Joe Pettit, the Post sent pages via disk to a Quebecor shop in Manhattan, which sent four-color proofs back to the editors for review. The pages were then sent electronically to Quebecor’s Connecticut facility, which produced the magazines and delivered them to the Post‘s printing plant in the Bronx. The Post says it is releasing 700,000 copies of each edition.
But where are they all going? Because Yankees Century is printed separately, the Post has asked some distributors to insert it into the paper. Though the mag is supposed to reach readers in the five boroughs and nearby suburbs, one source cannot find the mag in the suburban edition, and anecdotal reports have it missing from some city editions as well—even turning up, in one case, inside the News.
Media umpires will gloss over these fine points when it comes time to tally up the circulation figures. But a different winner might be declared if editorial quality and profit were factored in. For example, every year, a group called Associated Press Sports Editors names the best sports sections and writers. Since 1998, the News has won a dozen awards or honorable mentions, while the Post hasn’t received any.
Then there are the ads. According to sources, the News‘ two Yankees commemoratives produced 65 ad pages to match 79 pages of editorial, while Yankees Century hasn’t produced any. And when you consider the big picture—last year, the News brought ad revenues of $410 million, compared to $125 million at the Post—it’s obvious the Murdochs are paying a steep price to compete in this game.
Magazines like Yankees Century aren’t designed to be ad supplements. Explains Rubenstein, “These are for readers, and readers love them.”