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The front-page streamer read THE FAT LADY SINGS OUR SONG. But she had been humming the tune at The National for months, so last week, after losing a reported $100 million in just 16 months, the nation's first and only all-sports daily called it quits. The 393rd and final edition of the New York-based tabloid appeared last Thursday.
When The National debuted on Jan. 31, 1990, it was a promising rookie with a wealth of talent, not to mention cash. Owner Emilio Azcárraga, a Mexican broadcasting mogul, gave each employee a gold coin worth $500 to commemorate the launch.
But there were setbacks almost from the start. A Sunday edition was canceled after nine months. The plan to localize coverage in virtually every major league city was abandoned. According to The National, the paper needed a circulation of 500,000 to break even, but the highest circulation it ever claimed was 281,000. After the price of 50 cents a copy was raised to 75 cents in January, circulation fell below 200,000.
Azcárraga came to New York last week to meet with his executives, and afterward he decided to shut down The National. Staffers knew the paper was in trouble, but they were still surprised. A dozen new employees had been hired in the week before Azcárraga pulled the plug. "We could go on no longer," says Frank Deford, editor and publisher of The National and a former writer for SI. "We had done our best, but it reached a point where he [Azcárraga] had to get out."
The National was launched at a time when many advertisers were cutting back on their ad budgets. Distribution was also a major difficulty. Dow Jones & Co., owner of The Wall Street Journal, was contracted to deliver the paper, but the trucks couldn't always wait as long as The National wanted, so the paper often didn't have the latest scores. "People were so demanding of late scores," says Deford. "It would have been a piece of cake if we were The Wall Street Journal and all our games were played in the daytime."
But even under the best of circumstances, there just may not have been enough of a demand for The National. Says media analyst John Morton, "While the interest in sports is growing, it is well served. People have their local papers, USA Today, national magazines and TV. Did they really need more?"
The Good Father
Counting his heroics during Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Bruce Correio's career scoring record at the Los Angeles Forum is now 4 for 5 from the free throw line, 1 for 1 from three-point range and $61,000. That's a pretty secular stats line for a Catholic priest.
With 3:35 left in the third quarter of the June 12 series-clinching game, the Chicago Bulls, who were leading the Lakers 73-71, called a timeout. A red carpet was promptly rolled onto the Forum floor, and Correio, clad in civilian clothes, dribbled a basketball onto the floor. It was time for the Wherehouse/Maxell Half-court Shootout, a contest in which a fan tries to sink a shot from half court to win a cash jackpot. For this game, the shot was worth $57,000. "I just wanted to make sure it wouldn't be an air ball," says the 5'8" associate pastor of St. Genevieve's Church in Panorama City, Calif. (He is so wild about basketball that his parishioners call him Father J.)