Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

ESPN Invites Itself to SI's Table

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

ESPN Invites Itself to SI's Table

Article excerpt

'Nobody is saying that we're going to unseat anybody," says ESPN's John Walsh, executive editor, major-domo, and driving force behind the eagerly anticipated national sports magazine that is hitting newsstands as we speak, cleverly named ESPN magazine. "We're just asking to have a seat at the table."

Okey-dokey, John, but we Sports Sceners are a tad bit suspicious. After all, when a company known for its competitive zeal and with inexhaustibly deep pockets (Disney owns 80 percent of ESPN, Hearst the other 20 percent) coyly says it just wants to be on the team, not the star of the team, well, we didn't just ride into town on the back of a potato truck.

What ESPN magazine is, really, is the most serious assault ever on the supreme rule of Sports Illustrated. Many have tried to get in the ring with SI; all have been knocked out in early rounds. Could this be the one that floors the champ? Already the thought of a big-time challenger has the folks at SI getting in their best fighting trim in decades. Walsh, who took over control of ESPN's "SportsCenter" broadcast and turned it from essentially a mundane scores show into a classy television event day after day after day, is a borderline genius. A number of his pals at ESPN are not without starry skills, either, including the magazine's editor, former SI boss John Papanek. It's an impressive lineup of talent and an impressive concept. The corporate line is a kind of aw-shucks approach, a public charade that it's not going to compete with SI, just be out there with it. The truth, of course, is there were thorough discussions within the ESPN hierarchy on whether to start off as a weekly and take on SI forthwith, or to start biweekly or monthly. The prudent choice, biweekly, was made. The head-to-head confrontation will come later. While Walsh insists there will be long, 3,000 word pieces - by writers including Curry Kirkpatrick and Rick Telander, previously two of the best at SI - he admits there will be "a lot of bite-size chunks, segments, sequences." However, the key difference from SI is ESPN magazine's focus on the 18- to 34-year-old male, a substantially younger audience than SI targets. …

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