An Abu Dhabi-based company is set to launch a daily sports newspaper published in collaboration with the capital's media production zone twofour54. With an initial print run of 40,000, Sport 360° will be distributed across the UAE seven days a week with possible expansion elsewhere in the region.
The editor, Steve McKenley, claims the title will exploit a gap in a news market populated by "mediocre" sports coverage and focus on a wide range of sports including local events such as falconry and camel racing. The title will be owned and produced by Gulf Sports Media, which is based at twofour54. Michael Chalhoub, the chief executive of Gulf Sports Media, said the UAE's love of sports will attract readers and advertisers to the new product.
"You have a place with many nationalities, cultures and social levels, and you have one common denominator, one common ground … and that is sport," said Mr Chalhoub. He said a printing company had not yet been appointed but the English-language title would "be audited at the latest by the third quarter of 2011. We're going to be very transparent". Salem al Shaikh, an Emirati, has been named editor-in-chief of Sport 360°.
Mr McKenlay, the former sports editor of the London Evening Standard, said most of the newspaper's editorial staff had already been recruited. "There's recruitment going on and we're talking to content partners," he said. "When it launches, this newspaper will be excellent. "My view of [existing] sports coverage in this area is that it is mediocre at best. And this newspaper will be providing comprehensive coverage of the sort you haven't seen here before."
At a time when newspapers around the world are suffering from advertising shortfalls and in some cases closing, such as Dubai Media Incorporated's Emirates Business 24/7, the launch of Sport 360° will be closely watched. Mr McKenlay insisted there was "still a newspaper-reading culture" in the region, and added the company also planned to launch a Sport 360° website, along with mobile applications and SMS services.
Mr McKenlay declined to specify a launch date. But a promotional T-shirt for the newspaper given to The National by Mr Chalhoub claims the title will hit the news-stands in September. The morning newspaper will have a cover price of about Dh2. Mr Chalhoub said consultations with media buying agencies had been "very positive". "We've appointed a small sales team," he said. "We believe that all advertisers find a great willingness to be associated with this paper because it will be a great success.
"We believe that there is a gap in the market. "If there was one potential need that's unfulfilled in this region, then it's sports." Mr Chalhoub cited events such as the Formula One in Abu Dhabi as testament to the potential of the title, which would be "a real communication tool". But media commentators cast doubt on how attractive the title would be to advertisers. Ali Jaber, the dean of the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Communications at the American University of Dubai and a consultant to Dubai Media Incorporated, said the restrictions on the type of advertising allowed in the UAE could be problematic.
"There are limited advertising opportunities there," Mr Jaber said. "A lot of sports advertising is typically alcohol-orientated and 40,000 copies in the UAE in this point in time, when the advertising market is squashed, is too little in terms of mass audience." "I'd rather go for a digital [sports product], as it's a young, tech-savvy audience," he added. "I'd assume that half [the 40,000 copies] would be returned. It's a waste of trees."