Sports tabloids offer plenty of flesh, but not much meatThere are five sports tabloids in Korea. All of them use kiosks as their main point of sale. On the streets or in Seoul’s subway stations, lying beside the dailies, they pack as much punch in shaping opinion as the mammoth dailies boasting millions of subscribers ― at least when it comes to sports and entertainment news.
The country’s second-oldest sports tabloid, Sports Seoul, appeared on newsstands in 1985, creating a big fuss with its splashy, full-color pages. Soon more competitors popped up; by 2001, there were five.
Although they bear the word “sports” in their name, their content is actually a mix of straight sports news and gossip in the entertainment biz. A good portion of their ink deals with items of a sexual nature, a mixture of Playboy-style mini-novels, cartoons and celebrity pix that show plenty of skin, coupled with headlines that suggest to the reader ― or viewer ― that there is more of it inside.
For years, civic groups have argued that the racy content was hurting the young folks of this fair land.
On a radio show recently, such talk was alive and well. Although I agree that the content is not that desirable for certain age groups, unless there’s some fundamental change in our country’s sports market it will be hard to alter the nature of sports tabloids.
Someone on these talk shows always suggests selling the papers in wrappers when the topic is brought up, but that solution will hardly protect Korea’s youth. In a country that is hardwired to the Internet and its associated trash, such a move would be only a hollow, symbolic gesture.
The bread and butter of the sports tabs is baseball, Korea’s most popular professional sport. That’s why the tabloids have an entire section, usually the largest, devoted to the game. But when the season’s over, other than stitching together the pages with less popular sports, papers have few options but to milk the entertainment industry.
With the bulk of sales on the streets, tabloids’ overall marketing strategy is to attract the average Joe’s interest within 20 seconds of his eyeing the paper. That’s why the front page is plastered with giant, colorful pictures screaming, “The more flesh the better.” That’s also why on rainy days, editors are cursing; according to one reporter, weather has the greatest influence on sales.
In a country such as the United States, where devotion to college sports is on par with the pro leagues, the existence of an all-in-one sports publication like Sports Illustrated is only natural. The sheer size of the sports world removes any likelihood that material will ever dry up. Plenty of sources, plenty of readers.
In Korea, where college sports is still a government-sponsored institution, a province of the elite, and professional leagues still aren’t that big, such a high-quality sports magazine remains but a pipe dream.
Personally, I am not a big fan of the tabloids’ eye-catching strategies. But from a business perspective, the titillating covers are nothing but product differentiation, a strategy for survival.
Without change from above, it is very unlikely that the reporters and editors responsible for putting these papers together will ponder changing much.
Maybe if there’s some consolidation, things could be different. Otherwise, only the growth in our professional leagues and a change in how college sports is viewed will trigger any serious thinking.
by Brian Lee
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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