SPORT was an American sports magazine. Launched in September 1946 by New York-based publisher Macfadden Publications, SPORT pioneered the generous use of color photography – it carried eight full-color plates in its first edition.
SPORT predated the launch of Sports Illustrated by eight years, and is remembered for bringing several editorial innovations to the genre, as well as creating, in 1955, the SPORT Magazine Award. The SPORT Award, given initially to the outstanding player in baseball's World Series (Johnny Podres of the Brooklyn Dodgers was the inaugural winner), was later expanded to include the pre-eminent post-season performers in the other three major North American team sports. What made SPORT the most distinctive from Sports Illustrated, however, was that it was a monthly magazine as opposed to SI's weekly distribution.
SPORT was published continually between its launch and August 2000, when its then-owner, British publisher EMAP PLC, made the decision to close the money-losing title. As of 2016, the photo archive of SPORT, which represents one of the most significant collections of 20th-century sports photography in North America, is housed in Toronto and Vancouver, Canada, at The SPORT Gallery.
For many of the middle years of the 20th century, the king of sport magazines in North America was not Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated, but the brainchild of another publishing house, Macfadden Publications, founded by publisher and fitness authority Bernarr Macfadden. Launched in September 1946, Macfadden's SPORT magazine broke new ground, as the first mainstream national sports publication, but also in its editorial innovations. In those years, SPORT had the market for magazine-style sports journalism virtually to itself and, under founding editor Ernest Heyn, pioneered a brand of behind-the-scenes glimpses of the heroes of the day not previously attempted. The emphasis was not on the games or the teams, but on the elements of human drama that lay beneath. SPORT was an icon in the league of LIFE, Look and The Saturday Evening Post.
Many of the magazine's editorial innovations—such as its SPORTtalk digest of short items at the front of the magazine, the SPORT Special long feature at the back and, in particular, the use of full-page colour portraits of the stars of the day—were later borrowed by the new kid on the block, SI, when it made its debut as a weekly in 1954. In fact, Time Inc., tried to purchase the name "SPORT", but the company's final offer of $200,000 fell on deaf ears at Macfadden, who would have sold for $50,000 more, so Time Inc. went instead with Sports Illustrated, trademarking a name used by two previous failed sports journals, and which had lapsed into public domain.
From its launch in September 1946, with Joe DiMaggio gracing the inaugural cover, SPORT magazine thrived in a field it had in its early years essentially to itself; rival The Sporting News then being a weekly newspaper printed on newsprint. Each month its pages were filled with evocative writing by the likes of Grantland Rice, John Lardner, Dan Daniel, Roger Kahn and the magazine's editor, Dick Schaap, plus exquisite photographs by such shooting stars as Ozzie Sweet, George Heyer, Marvin Newman, Hy Peskin and Martin Blumenthal. It continued to thrive for a quarter-century or so, as SI struggled to reach profitability, and to find the right blend of spectator and participatory sports.
Ogden Nash wrote his baseball poem "Line-Up for Yesterday" for the magazine in 1949.
Representative of SPORT magazine's stature, in the hearts and minds of the reading public, but also of the men who ran the leagues and teams across North America, was the magazine's success in establishing the SPORT Award in 1955 for the most valuable player in the World Series. The concept was expanded over the years until a SPORT magazine award was presented to the outstanding post-season performer in all four major team sports, as sanctioned by the leagues.
But by the early 1970s, Macfadden, lacking Time Magazine's deep pockets, was fading, and SPORT eventually wound up in the hands of Downe Communications. In 1976, Downe and its family of magazines that included Ladies Home Journal and Redbook, was acquired by The Charter Company. Under Downe and Charter, there was a zig-zag in editorial direction, and gradually SPORT lost its way, its distinctive voice, and circulation declined. In 1980, SPORT was purchased from the Charter Company by its VP of Corporate and Investor Relations, Park Beeler, through an entity known as MVP Sports. Beeler quickly restructured the personnel of SPORT and named Don Hanrahan, a former publisher under Downe, to return to that role. Beeler and Hanrahan immediately implemented a strategic plan of editorial and circulation repositioning with a return to a "sports in depth" theme as opposed to attempts to cover sports news. Beeler and Hanrahan also solidified SPORT's historic role of awarding of the MVP Awards for the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup, and NBA Championship Series. Circulation practices were improved and re-validated. This quickly revived the magazine and its advertising base. Beeler then sold MVP Sports to Raymond Hunt of Dallas, who integrated it into his existing publishing enterprises, Southwest Media, which included the very successful D Magazine, which was headed by [Wick Allison]. Allison brought in [David Bauer] as editor, (then-deputy managing editor of Sports Illustrated). Under Hanrahan as publisher and Bauer as editor, SPORT sharply improved its design and editorial content under the "sports in depth" theme, and the magazine became profitable for the first time in years. Hanrahan, Allison and Bauer all moved on to other projects after a few years. The magazine was sold by Ray Hunt to Peterson Publishing Company in 1988, at which time SPORT's decline resumed.
In August 2000, after appearing every month for 54 years under 10 different owners, SPORT magazine ceased publication.
SPORT's demise was duly mourned. Allen Barra, writing in Salon.com, put it this way: "Though it didn't make any headlines, the news of the death of SPORT magazine ... must have put a lump in the throat of those old enough to remember the greatest of all American sports magazines ... Sports Illustrated was great, but SI, in an era when you couldn't see all the highlights every night, was read for news; SPORT was for reflection." And, in a rare departure for the competitive magazine industry, SI itself paid tribute to SPORT on its own pages with a poignant piece that began, "They closed the barbershop last week, the one in town, the first place – not counting school or a friend's house – where your mother would drop you off and leave you ..."
Today, the archive of the magazine, comprising tens of thousands photographic images and illustrations, lives on, forming the base of The SPORT Collection, which is housed in Toronto, Canada, at The SPORT Gallery. There is also a second location in Vancouver, Canada.