All bets are off: 'The Sportsman' stops publication

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The Independent Online

The Sportsman, the country's first new daily national newspaper in 20 years, has ceased trading after burning through £12m in less than seven months.

At a meeting this week, shareholders refused to hand over a further £350,000 to give the London-based sports and gaming newspaper another month in which to find a white knight.

High-profile backers who lost out include Michael Spencer, the chief executive ofIcap, Andy Stewart, the founder of the stock brokers Collins Stewart, and Dermot Desmond, the Irish billionaire who owns 41 per cent of Celtic Football Club.

Other prominent investors included the head of Intuition Gaming, Ben Arbib, whose father Sir Martyn used to run the fund manager Perpetual, the Sporting Index founder Compton Hellyer, and Ben and Zac Goldsmith, sons of the late Sir James Goldsmith.

Jeremy Deedes, the former managing director of the Telegraph Group and chairman of The Sportsman, was also a shareholder. He founded the newspaper with Charlie Methven, the former diary editor of The Daily Telegraph.

The Sportsman's 90 staff were told on Thursday that they no longer had jobs. They had hoped to cash in on Britain's burgeoning gaming industry, but sales fell consistently shy of targets. Pundits suggested that The Sportsman never recovered from a soggy launch after the Cheltenham Festival in March, while the World Cup failed to draw in football fans.

The latest official figures showed The Sportsman commanded a circulation of just 16,315 copies, of which 12,762 were paid for. At the time of its launch, the newspaper needed to sell 40,000 copies a day to break even. After a downward revision of its business plan, that break-even figure was trimmed to 21,000. Last Saturday, it managed to hit that sales target with its best performance since the initial launch period.

Mr Deedes said in a statement: "It is a very sad note on which The Sportsman closes. Since we redesigned the paper six weeks ago, circulation has grown every week. Ironically, our last recorded sale, of 21,000, was not only our best day's sale since the launch period, but also corresponded to the figure set out as the 'break even' under the new business plan. To be shutting on a rising sale is more heartbreaking than if we had been in steady decline."

Despite encouraging sales, investors were unwilling to foot the bill for another month's wages as hopes faded that talks with potential rescuers would come to a bid. The Sportsman had been in administration since July, and relaunched to focuson racing in an attempt to bolster circulation.

In mid-August, the administrators said they were within 10 days of nailing down a sale of the newspaper. However, on 20 August they advertised it for sale in The Sunday Times.