Can legions of loyal fans be created for a new daily newspaper that focuses on the already-saturated topic of sports? A year and a half into the experiment that was The National, the answer, suddenly, became no.
Launched with financing from Mexican media baron Emilio Azcarraga and expensive editorial talent plucked from the sports pages of top U.S. publications, The National ("A Whole New Game," April 1990) printed its final issue on June 13. In the end, neither praise for its editorial product nor Azcarraga's legendarily deep pockets could save an operation that had already gone through $100 million.
What went wrong? Except for the warm critical reception, almost everything. By June the paper was selling 200,000 copies a day (against a projected 1 million) and typically running just a handful of full-page ads. Its cover price had jumped 50%, to 75¢ a copy, and the publishing industry's brutal slump showed no signs of letup.
Unfortunately for The National, that wasn't all. As circulation and ad revenues stumbled along below target, the paper's overhead remained stubbornly high. Its nearly 300-strong staff couldn't be radically cut without wrecking the product. And local sports sections and general-interest newspapers such as USA Today and the national edition of The New York Times had all ramped up to counter the raid on market share. The National had raised the level of the game -- only to find that it wasn't a good enough business to play. -- Leslie Brokaw