Magazine article Editor & Publisher

School Spirit Pays off Big-Time for Landmark Pubs

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

School Spirit Pays off Big-Time for Landmark Pubs

Article excerpt

Imagine a newspaper group with 1.5 million rabid readers, an 80% subscription renewal rate, and advertisers occasionally begging to get into one or more of its publications.

For the collegiate sports division of privately held Landmark Community Newspapers Inc. (LCNI), that's no fantasy. The Shelbyville, Ky.-based unit of Landmark Communications Inc. has been on a quiet acquisition spree the last 18 months, buying six fan magazines devoted exclusively to covering football and basketball at schools with national championship pedigrees.

Landmark is the only newspaper publisher in this subscriber-rich genre, said Dave Stirt, chief operating officer of the sports publication unit. -They added a lot of properties very rapidly, Stirt said, -so right now they're trying to catch their breath and see what they have on their hands here.

Landmark got into the sports-pub game in 1997 with The Cats' Pause, a fan magazine geared to University of Kentucky alumni and fans. At $47.50 for 35 issues, the publication is delivered by mail, half inside and half outside Kentucky. Circulation has grown from 17,000 to 20,000, said LCNI President Larry Coffey. It helps that Kentucky has no professional sports teams, -so the University of Kentucky is the program for Kentucky residents, he said.

Landmark hired Stirt after he sold his University of Florida fan magazine, Gator Bait. -Landmark brought me aboard to help them with expansion, so that they could purchase more of these publications, Stirt said. Following a business plan that Stirt said he had squirreled away in his desk for some time, other magazines were acquired in rapid-fire succession in 1998 and 1999.

The newsprint tabloids are Gator Talk, also focusing on University of Florida athletics; Inside Indiana, University of Indiana; Voice of the Hawkeyes, University of Iowa; Carolina Blue, University of North Carolina; and The Osceola, Florida State University. The latest acquisition was made in April 1999. Called Huskers Illustrated, covering the University of Nebraska, it is the only publication printed in magazine format and on coated stock.

Declining to give details on acquisition costs and profitability, Stirt said Landmark has -met expectations and projections for the first year. Noted Coffey: -We really try to focus on championship programs. The better the program, the better the publication will do. If your team is winning, people like to read about that. …

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