Brand Health Check: Daily Sport

A recent shift upmarket to compete with The Sun and Daily Star has done little to bolster the paper's sales.

In the late-80s, it was considered the height of hilarity for any self-respecting sixth-form boy to plaster the walls of the common room with front pages of the recently-launched Sunday Sport.

With headlines such as 'Bomber found on moon' and 'London bus found frozen in Antarctic', as well as gratuitous pictures of naked women and lavatorial humour, the title carved a niche for itself and attracted a readership, sitting somewhere between the ludicrous US fantasy tabloid Weekly World News, soft-porn mags and adult comic Viz.

Such was its success, that in 1991, its owner, the porn baron David Sullivan, launched a sister paper, the Daily Sport, that again was notable for its lack of world news and current events - and, indeed, coverage of sport, which made its title something of a misnomer - preferring to focus on increasingly far-fetched stories, gossip and snaps of scantily-clad minor celebrities or 'up skirt' pictures of famous women getting in and out of cars.

As an unapologetically trashy title, the newspaper failed to attract much mainstream advertising, instead relying on specialist classified ads, normally allied to the sex trade, and continued in this vein for the next 16 years.

In August 2007, Sullivan cut his ties with the papers, selling them to Sport Media Group, which in April decided to put £1m behind a relaunch of the Daily Sport in a bid to turn its sleazy image into something slightly more upmarket and in keeping with the content of rival red tops the Daily Star and The Sun.

The paper continued to target men, but opted to focus exclusively on sport, girls and humour in its content, avoiding showbusiness and moving its adult entertainment editorial and advertising into a separate pull-out called X-tra.

However, recent ABCs reveal that attempts to raise the tone of the Daily Sport have not been a complete success, with Sport Media Group describing the relaunch as 'disappointing', resulting in the firm losing nearly 10% of its value.

So where does the Daily Sport go now? Should it revert to its previous positioning, or should it continue in its attempt to give it more mainstream appeal? We asked Mark Dixon, former marketing director at the Daily Telegraph and The Sportsman, and current managing director at Fuse Sport, and George Bryant, founding partner of Brooklyn Brothers, for their advice.

DIAGNOSIS 1 - MARK DIXON MANAGING DIRECTOR, FUSE SPORT

It is still early days after a major reworking of its content and repackaging and the newspaper would have expected some of its readers to find the changes off-putting and to react. Similarly, they were never going to pull in a whole new readership attracted to the fresh, softer, men's mag-type content overnight, especially without a lot of promotion, and I have seen little of the latter.

However, it does feel like a brand and product with some dichotomies to sort out. Is it a men's mag-style paper with a bit of sex, or a sex guide with a safe cover?

The logic of splitting the paper into two, with sport and funny bits wrapping the 'adult entertainment guide' is sound; but it needs to work very hard in promoting that story so that additional readers are attracted to the main paper and don't feel embarrassed or turned off by the pull-out.

In reaching for more mainstream acceptance from readers and advertisers alike, it is entering a cleaner, but more crowded and inherently riskier place, and, in this era, its lack of a digital presence needs addressing urgently.

REMEDY

- Continue improving the content, especially in sport; sign up some star names to add legitimacy.

- Promote heavily but wisely, for example by segmenting the sports and sex messages to particular audiences.

- Invest in an online and mobile strategy that benefits financially from the existing audience and builds a new one.

- Target advertiser categories and develop mutually beneficial content platforms.

DIAGNOSIS 2 - GEORGE BRYANT FOUNDING PARTNER, BROOKLYN BROTHERS

Half-pregnant. Neither gutter nor stars. That's where the Daily Sport is in danger of finding itself post-relaunch.

We've all been there. There's a gaping need for change, but you're not brave enough to do something drastic.

When the Daily Sport launched in the early-90s it was a rebel. It had a mission - a pornographic one, admittedly, but a mission nonetheless. It was one in the eye for an overly-politically correct society. If Bill Gates' goal was to get a computer on every desktop in the world, the Daily Sport's was to find itself on the floor of every men's urinal.

But in a post-internet world, today's Daily Sport looks like a relic of the past. Everything in its pages is done better online and on demand, from sports updates to farting parrots to more free porn than any one man can use.

Now is not the time for half-measures, or for seeking refuge in the past: the Daily Sport has to move on. It must take its life in its hands and do something vital again. If it doesn't, it is destined to pass quietly away, like a sad and lonely old rebel.

REMEDY

- Develop a much bolder positioning for the paper, one that infuriates a few people again.

- Seize the internet as a real opportunity and develop a more provocative site, alongside being far more active in the use of social media.

- Use marketing communications to develop a fresh positioning that really gets the paper noticed and actively courts controversy.

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