ESPN, the sports-media giant with an influence that extends across several types of media, is getting out of one particular venue: print.
The Disney-controlled company said Tuesday that it would shut down ESPN The Magazine, an influential sports publication that has been on newsstands since 1998, in September. The publication was no longer breaking even, according to a person familiar with the matter.
“Consumer habits are evolving rapidly, and this requires ESPN to evolve as well. The only change here is that we are moving away from printing it on paper and sending it in the mail, following September’s release of ‘The Body’ Issue,” the company said in a statement. “Our data shows the vast majority of readers already consume our print journalism on digital platforms, and this approach will maximize our reach and impact. In the future, we will explore releasing tentpole collections such as ‘Body’ in special, differentiated print formats.”
Editorial staffers are expected to stay with the company, says the person familiar with the situation. Most were already working for other parts of ESPN’s digital-media operations. A “handful” of employees responsible for print production could be affected, but a determination on possible layoffs has yet to be reached this person said. ESPN intends to continue publishing big magazine-type features with high-end photography online.
The magazine’s demise serves as another reminder of how the rise of digital media has affected once-stalwart print properties. When ESPN launched its magazine in the late 1990s, it was seen as a move to counter the influence of Sports Illustrated, the powerhouse publication from Time Inc. These days, Sports Illustrated is part of Meredith Corp., and has been on the sales block for months.
ESPN The Magazine has long served as a roost for prominent voices like Stuart Scott. Its battle with its main rival seemed to take a twist when Rick Reilly, the longtime back-page columnist for Sports Illustrated, joined ESPN in 2008. Reilly stopped writing for ESPN The Magazine, however, in 2014.