Cable Operators

Allen Sells 'The Sporting News’

9/08/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

Charter Communications Inc. chairman and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen sold The Sporting News last week, perhaps for less than half of what he paid for it six years ago, according to published reports.

Vulcan Media Ventures, Allen’s personal investment vehicle, purchased The Sporting News in 2000 from Times Mirror Co. for $100 million, and announced last week that it sold the publication to American City Business Journals, a unit of Advance Publications, for an undisclosed sum.

Although the purchase price wasn’t announced, some published reports put the sale at between $35 million and $40 million for the magazine, its online and book publishing operations and the Sporting News Radio Network, a national radio show carried by about 150 radio stations.

Not part of the deal: radio stations in New York, Los Angeles and Boston, which are being sold separately.

American City also publishes several sports-related publications, including the Sports Business Journal, NASCAR Scene and NASCAR Illustrated magazines; and the Hemmings line of magazines for car collectors and enthusiasts.

The Sporting News has been on the block since February, but the process has had its fair share of roadblocks. Vulcan hired media investment banker Allen & Co. to shop the 120-year-old publication in 2005, but found few takers at what was considered to be a high asking price.

Also sidetracking the deal: a three-year investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, accusing the publication of promoting Internet gambling by running ads for off-shore online gambling sites. The Sporting News settled the case in January for $7.2 million.

The Sporting News also is battling a tough advertising market. According to the Magazine Publishers of America, ad pages from January to July were down 1.4% from 421.06 in 2005 to 415.01 at The Sporting News, while revenue was up 2.1% to $23.1 million from $22.6 million a year ago. At industry leader Sports Illustrated, revenue rose about 1% to $345.8 million in the same period while ad pages dipped about 1% to 1,134.5.

The numbers were worse for ESPN the Magazine — revenue was down 5.5% to $149.3 million and ad pages were down 10.4% to 832.8 in the period.

Founded in 1886, The Sporting News is the oldest continually published sports publication in the country. It has a circulation of about 700,000, compared to about 3 million for Sports Illustrated and 2 million for ESPN the Magazine.