Henry Luce leaned forward, puzzled. This was preposterous behavior! The team with a 13-point lead, instead of pressing its advantage, was passing the ball back and forth. It was stalling, icing the game. Luce, the cofounder of Time Inc., was no particular fan of college basketball—O.K., he was no fan at all—but this strategy simply didn't square with his formula for success. He turned to his tour guide for the evening, an employee who had volunteered to squire the media magnate to the unfamiliar squalor of Madison Square Garden, and said, "That's no good. You can't survive by hoarding. It's like making money. Any small boy can save money, but you've got to spend money to make money." Lest his metaphor be lost on his companion, Luce explained, "The team that's ahead now is going to lose."
The story, logged in Time Inc. corporate lore, predictably ends with the team that was ahead losing. We do not have the box score to prove it, but anecdotes tend to be bent in favor of media magnates, and the story, however apocryphal, does explain Luce's inclination toward expansion of a publishing empire that already included TIME, LIFE and FORTUNE. Time Inc., the company he created with $86,000 in 1922 was, by 1952, flush to the point of bursting.
One of the principal engines of the postwar boom was advertising, and that had been very good for Luce's magazines. That year they'd captured more than $130 million in ad revenue, about a quarter of all dollars spent in American magazines. "We have $10 million sitting idle," Luce wrote to his associates. He later said, "Wouldn't it be a good test if we found out if we could bring out another successful magazine?"
There was no shortage of ideas. Among them were Highway Magazine, Quitting Time, Railroad Fan Magazine and a semireligious comic book, a proposal no doubt meant to pander to the beetle-browed missionary's son who ran this empire. Also under consideration was a sports magazine. Luce had zero background in spoils and was always perplexed when conversations among his peers veered to the previous night's game. Actually, when it came to sports, he was nearly always perplexed. He once started to leave a baseball game at the seventh-inning stretch, thinking it signaled the conclusion of the evening's entertainment. But he was not beyond being influenced by the culture he covered, and he recognized the growing importance of sports in an age of increasing leisure.
The idea of a sports magazine had long bounced through Time Inc.'s halls but had never been encouraged. The company, littered with Ivy Leaguers, was far too highbrow for that. One executive later complained, "I suggested the sports magazine idea before the war, and the bigwigs reacted as if I was talking about comic books. Time Inc. would never dirty their journalistic pudgies on anything so base as sports."
But now, desperate for a start-up, a sports magazine didn't seem all that far beneath Time Inc., what with the country newly devoted to play. With all those new consumers out there, buying firearms and motorboats, maybe some kind of recreation magazine could be made to prosper. Luce challenged his editors to shoot the ball.