The Sportsman, Britain’s first new national daily newspaper in 20 years, is betting that a gambling boom fueled by the Internet and televised soccer matches will help it overcome the industry’s lackluster advertising growth.
“The market has undergone a massive shift in the past five years,’’ said Max Aitken, the newspaper’s managing director and a great-grandson of Lord Beaverbrook, the legendary press baron. “The U.K. betting market in the past 10 years has grown from 5 billion pounds ($8.78 billion) to 40 billion pounds.’’
The Sportsman, which publishes its first issue today, aims at a new generation of gamblers attracted to Internet poker and the bevy of weekly soccer games now available on pay TV services such as British Sky Broadcasting Plc. The new London-based paper is taking on Trinity Mirror Plc’s Racing Post while billing itself as looking at a broader range of sports than “The Horse’s Mouth,’’ as the Trinity title calls itself.
Newspaper advertising has been in short supply in Britain in the past six months, with several publishers reporting lower ad sales. The Racing Post’s ad revenue fell 0.7 percent last year compared with an ad-sales decline of 11.4 percent for Trinity’s national newspaper unit. Average circulation was 70,334 in February.
The new seven-day-a-week Sportsman will cost 1 pound during the week and 1.20 pounds on weekends, and aims for an average daily circulation of 40,000, said Ed Pownall, a spokesman. It counts on betting shops such as Ladbrokes Plc and William Hill Plc for the bulk of its advertising.
Trinity Mirror will “vigorously defend our turf,’’ Chief Executive Officer Sly Bailey said earlier this month, and has already “modernized’’ the Racing Post through such features as a 36-page sports betting supplement on Saturday called RPSport.
“There’s going to be a sporting rivalry and that’s a good thing,’’ Robin Hutchison, a spokesman for Ladbrokes, said of the Sportsman’s arrival. “I hope it survives. There hasn’t been a great success rate for new newspapers in the U.K.’’
The Independent, published by Independent News & Media Plc, is Britain’s most recent new daily national newspaper, begun in 1986. Among newspapers begun and later closed in the past two decades are the Sunday Correspondent, published from 1989 to 1990, and Today, which lasted nine years until 1995, according to a history of U.K. newspapers on the British Library’s Web site.
“I’m skeptical, because the signs are that newspaper advertising isn’t picking up as a whole,’’ said Theresa Wise, a media analyst at Accenture Ltd. in London. “If they have online plans as well it might make sense.’’
The Sportsman’s Web site will list odds from various bookmakers for events and provide links to betting Web sites, with a portion of the wagering revenue going to the publication, Aitken said.
Pay TV and Britain’s National Lottery, begun in 1994, have “changed attitudes toward betting’’ among average U.K. citizens, said Aitken, 29, who studied English literature at Oxford University. “Betting became acceptable.’’
About 1.6 million people in Britain bet every week, and 70 percent of adults bet at least once a year in games including bingo and the lottery, he said.
The Sportsman’s birth follows the rise of Internet betting and Agen Bola companies in Britain, including last year’s initial stock sales for PartyGaming Plc, the world’s largest online poker operator, and online casino operator 888 Holdings Plc, which owns the Casino-on-Net and Pacific Poker brands.
European countries including France and Italy have long had top-selling daily sports newspapers, while the market in Britain has been different, with national titles such as the Times making sport a mainstay of their coverage. With national papers covering sport “very well,’’ the Sportsman instead aims to be a “niche’’ wagering title, said Pownall.
The closely held Sportsman has a startup investment of 12 million pounds from a group that includes Ben and Zac Goldsmith, sons of the late financier James Goldsmith. The paper has a staff of 120, and aims to break even operationally by the end of 2006, Pownall said.
Horse racing, which once ruled U.K. gambling, now accounts for 40 percent of U.K. wagering, while soccer is also 40 percent and the rest includes poker, golf, darts and cricket, he said.
This year’s soccer World Cup finals in Germany are expected to generate U.K. betting of 500 million to 1 billion pounds, compared with 200 million pounds to 300 million pounds for the 2002 finals in Japan and Korea, Ladbroke’s Hutchison said. That’s partly due to many more chances for betting.
“Traditionally, the referee’s kickoff whistle was the end of betting, but now we have `bet in play,”’ due to improved technology, he said. Gamblers can bet during a game on everything from the halftime score to who will get the next red card and get “sent off,’’ or ejected.