The Death of SI

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Back in the 90’s, I remember not only subscribing to Sports Illustrated, but also collecting all of the issues and keeping them in binders to marvel at later.  The sports section in the newspapers weren’t even close to telling us enough of what we wanted to know.  People were desperate to read more about sports so we read SI from cover to cover, taking in all of the knowledge.

In the late 90’s things started to change.  As the internet became main stream.  We had ESPN.com and countless other websites with their plethora of sports articles, chats and stats.  Then ESPN launched a magazine.  At first it seemed odd, how could ESPN compete with Sport Illustrated?  Little did we know that ESPN would start a slow climb to eventually make Sports Illustrated irrelevant. 

ESPN started by making their magazine 15% larger than SI; vertically and horizontally making it visually overpowering.  They continued by opening the magazine with 8 pages of sports pictures of the week.  SI copied the sports pictures of the week right away since they perceived it as such a good idea. 

ESPN even had a tagline that read, “this isn’t your father’s sports magazine”.  ESPN full filled their promise by giving preference to the more exciting stories, teams and players.  ESPN even went as far as to say, “We aren’t going to tell you about what has already happened, we are going to tell you what will happen”.  Considering that we all go to ESPN.com every hour for the latest updates this was very smart thinking.  Since a lot of sports fans watch ESPN and go to ESPN.com they exert influence people’s thoughts regarding sports.  So it goes without saying that if people can get the same ESPN writers to write the articles with the same tone and style they would prefer ESPN as over the outdated “your father’s sports magazine”.

ESPN went out of their way to consistently have cover athletes that people wanted to see going so far as to come up with a yearly concept called NEXT.  Once a year, they would make a magazine and call it the NEXT issue, on it they would feature whoever they thought was going to be the NEXT big star in their opinion.  Their first issue featured A-ROD, Kordell Stewart, Eric Lindros and a pre-snitch Kobe Bryant.  In its second year it featured Randy Moss, third year Vince Carter, fourth year Yao Ming, sixth year Lebron James and eighth year Adrian Peterson.

At first some people tried ESPN’s trail offer of their magazine; some liked it while some didn’t.  I subscribed for the first year, but stopped because for the past 5 years learning more about the current sports scene has been best done with a sports website.   One could even make the argument a sports magazine is useless.  Why read outdated information, when you can read significantly more information that is constantly updated?  In my opinion the only sports magazine really worth paying for is SLAM since it isn’t trying to teach about the sports scene.  All SLAM has ever done is give us the best cover athletes, the best basketball pictures and preview the latest basketball shoes.

Currently I subscribe to ESPN.  You might ask why?  A few years back ESPN launched a special section of their website called “Insider” that featured exclusive bonus coverage.  Most of the feature NBA articles were Insider exclusive so I had to pay their yearly fee of $30.  About a year later, they started including ESPN the magazine free with all “Insider subscriptions”.  In a sense I am subscribing to ESPN the magazine for free. 

Looking at the current state of the world, the economy is influx.  People are looking more and more at costs.  It costs $39 to subscribe to Sports Illustrated’s weekly magazine for one year compared to $30 to subscribe to ESPN’s biweekly magazine for one year, which comes with “Insider”.  At my local chiropractor’s office I noticed there was no more SI, so I asked the receptionist, Maritza, “what happened?”, which she responded with, “SI costs too much”.  I turned around and what did I see?  Yes, you guessed it I saw their new sports magazine, ESPN.

If you are going to pay for a magazine, wouldn’t you want the cover athlete to be someone of interest?  Looking over the covers of Sports Illustrated for the past few years there have been very few covers of any interest, let alone collectability.  Who wants to see some dorky white kid nobody cares about?  Michael Phelps will even tell you he would rather see the Flash or TO on the cover then himself.  I mean come on now.  Are you even trying to sell a magazine?

If you want to collect the good SI’s you are better off buying the 3-4 good ones a year at a store.  You might be paying way more than the 70 cents it costs with a subscription but who wants countless magazines to throw away?  You can go to SI.com every week look at the cover, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/cover/select/2009-01-01/2009-12-31/dd/1/index.htm, get a good laugh and the rare 3-4 times it is a good cover go buy it for $4.  In the last year there have only been 2 covers I liked.  Both were double issues so they cost $6 apiece.  So for $12, I could have gotten all the covers I liked and had $27 in my pocket. 

I guess Sports Illustrated shouldn’t feel too bad, a lot of magazines have already ceased publication in the past few years.  You would think SI would fix their mistakes.  Get some young fresh writers, and, for the love of God, pick better cover athletes.

Farhan Latif writes exclusively for CloudFantasy.  Email him here.

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