c.2013 New York Times News Service
c.2013 New York Times News Service
Major League Soccer reached a milestone by turning 18 in 2013, outlasting by one year the North American Soccer League to become the longest-lasting domestic professional soccer circuit.
Also this year, NBC paid a record $250 million for broadcast rights to every English Premier League game over the next three years.
But if professional soccer has gained a solid foothold in the United States, soccer journalism continues to lag its foreign peers. There have been no prominent publications dedicated to the sport, featuring A-list writers and designers.
Now two soccer magazines are trying to change that, hoping that enthusiasm generated by the approaching 2014 World Cup will help create a readership that will endure for years afterward.
One of the magazines, Eight by Eight, introduced its first issue in Manhattan last month. The other, Howler, is a year old. (A third, called XI, is in the throes of a financial crisis after a year in print, and its future is unclear.)
The publications, all quarterlies, have had modest beginnings, with small subscriber figures so far. But the pedigree of the founders of Eight by Eight and Howler, with decades of experience in publishing pantheons like Esquire and National Geographic, suggests they represent the first attempt to create a niche genre aimed at a passionate audience.
The editors acknowledge that much of the optimism is fueled by the excitement generated by the World Cup, which will be held in Brazil beginning in June. The quadrennial event is followed by billions of people worldwide. Then there’s the recent ESPN poll in which American fans, for the first time, chose a soccer player — Argentina’s Lionel Messi — among their top 10 favorite athletes.
But there’s also a more primal impulse. “When we started (the magazine), we didn’t think, ‘Here’s a market we could exploit,’” said George Quraishi, co-editor at Howler along with Mark Kirby. “We wanted to make a magazine about something we love.”
Several years ago, when Quraishi worked at Condé Nast and Kirby was at GQ, the two used to play soccer together on Wednesdays at Pier 40 in Manhattan. “He’s a goalkeeper; I’m an attacker,” Quraishi said. “We had a good partnership.”
Soon they decided to combine their professional and sporting passions and start Howler.
Similarly, Robert Priest, one of the founders of Eight by Eight, describes himself as a “West Londoner who has strangely always been passionate about Manchester United.” Priest, 67, has been living in the United States since 1979 and has coached his two sons in youth soccer.
But passion doesn’t pay the bills. Howler got its start with $69,000 from Kickstarter and “pretty sizable” support through advertising by Nike and beIN Sport, the Al-Jazeera-affiliated sports network, Quraishi said. He is the only full-time staff member, which keeps costs down. After a little more than a year, Howler has published three issues, with the fourth coming in early January, and Quraishi said subscriptions, which cost $50, are approaching 5,000 and increasing with each issue.
Asked why he was confident the magazine could make it, Priest pointed to the years of financial success he has had in designing magazines, most recently with his partner Grace Lee, at Priest + Grace. Their client list includes Esquire; Forbes; O, the Oprah Magazine; and Bloomberg.
Priest and Lee, who are also partners in the magazine, said they had financing in the “six figures” to start their magazine, and that the first issue’s print run was 4,500 copies.
The magazines aim to go beyond the win-loss column and delve into personalities and issues. But they also differ in their approaches: Howler is a large-format publication that sends writers to locations like Mexico and Rome in search of long-form articles; Eight by Eight’s first issue splashes bright illustrations across many of its pages. XI, now struggling to put out a fourth issue, is smaller in size, almost academic and focused solely on North America.
Top writers from Britain, Germany, France and the United States have appeared in the magazines, including The Guardian’s Graham Parker and Sports Illustrated’s Jonathan Wilson.
Though all three organizations decided to produce a print magazine, they also rely on digital media to reach their readers.
Priest said his publication intended to use its website to offer merchandise, up-to-the-minute news and multimedia presentations. Quraishi has expanded Howler’s presence during the last year with online offerings that include podcasts and email bulletins. “We’re a print magazine, but most of the way we get the word out is digital,” he said, adding that many subscribers had come through social media.
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The appearance of three soccer quarterlies in the same year has not been without behind-the-scenes drama. Priest and Lee were part of Howler’s founding team, working on that magazine’s first two issues. But then, Priest said, creative differences emerged, leading them to start Eight by Eight. “We wanted to develop something that was our own,” Lee added.
But there has also been uncommon camaraderie displayed as well. When XI announced its financial troubles, Howler wrote on Twitter: “totally bummed for our buds at @xiquarterly. we know how tough it is.”
Asked about this, Quraishi said: “The main idea we share with XI is that soccer fans have been ignored by the U.S. press. So there’s an idea we’re in this together. That’s part of our DNA.”