Odds lengthen on survival of 'Sportsman' as sales drop

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The Independent Online

The circulation of The Sportsman, the UK's first new national daily newspaper for 20 years, has slumped from 67,000 to around 22,000 in its first full month of publication.

Max Aitken, the paper's managing director, confirmed that trade estimates for April were for average daily sales of between 22,000 and 23,000. The 67,000 sales for its launch issue in March had been partly down to heavy launch promotion.

Mr Aitken, the great-grandson of the Express mogul Lord Beaverbrook, said the newspaper remained on track to hit its target break-even circulation of 40,000 by March 2007. "The paper is on a very solid straight. Rome wasn't built in a day," said Mr Aitken.

Media buyers said they were impressed with the editorial content of the tabloid-sized newspaper, which is backed by Zac and Ben Goldsmith, sons of the late tycoon Sir James Goldsmith.

But some doubted how long the newspaper could survive in such a competitive market while UK print media advertising remains in the doldrums. The Trinity Mirror newspaper group said last week that its advertising revenues had fallen by almost 12 per cent in the first four months of the year.

Mr Aitken said that around 65 per cent of The Sportsman's revenues came from sales, with the rest from advertising. He said he was happy with the level of advertising in the newspaper, which in its first week included a double-page advert from The Sun exhorting readers to buy the red top instead.

Nick Burcher, a buying director at the media-buying agency Zed Media, said: "The Sportsman is competing with both traditional newspapers and information available online. It looks light on advertising. Sales and advertising performance over the World Cup period will be critical."

Sir Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of the global advertising group WPP, said last month that growth for the group was weakest in the UK