Champaign, Ill.—based Sports Publishing shipped a 35,000-copy print run of Super Bucs to accounts Friday, January 31, just five days after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the 2003 Super Bowl. The 160-page, $20 trade paperback was done in cooperation with the Orlando Sentinel and has received more support from the major bookstore chains than Sports Publishing president Peter Bannon expected.
Super Bucs follows the success of last year's book on the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, which sold 50,000 copies in trade paper and 5,000 in hardcover. And earlier this month, the company had one of its biggest hits in its instant sports book operation with Ohio State: A Season to Remember, which has 80,000 copies in print and is on its way back to press for another 20,000 copies. A book on the University of Georgia football team, Destiny's Dogs, has also exceeded expectations, with 25,000 copies in print. "We've got the formula down," said Bannon about his instant sports book niche.
The decision to publish quickie books on the Super Bowl and the major college bowl games has turned January from what was once a down month to one of Sports Publishing's biggest, with sales this year expected to top $1 million. With a solid start to 2003, Bannon is projecting a sales increase of 25% this year, following a 20% increase in 2002 that pushed sales to $9.6 million.
Football is Sports Publishing's third largest category, trailing baseball and NASCAR; while baseball had long been the company's largest segment, NASCAR has been the hottest, Bannon said. Two titles that are doing very well are As They Head for the Checkers, which comes packaged with an audio CD, and The History of America's Greatest Stock Car Tracks, which Bannon feels could sell perhaps 250,000 copies. Biographies of the sport's most popular drivers are also expected to do well this year. The Checkers title is just one of 12 books that Sports Publishing released last year with a CD; its top seller in that category was Elvis: The King Remembered—more than 100,000 copies in print.
Elvis was one of about 10 non-sports books released by Sports Publishing last year on a list of about 120 titles. Bannon plans to publish approximately the same number of titles this year. The success of Elvis, plus the popularity of NASCAR, has prompted Bannon to enter a new niche, country music. The first title, Tales from the Grand Old Opry, is due out later this year.
With sports as its primary focus, sales outside of the traditional bookstore channel already represent an important sales avenue for the company, and Bannon is looking to expand Sports Publishing's reach even further. "I'm obsessed to find ways to get sports fans who don't go into bookstores to buy our books," Bannon said. In one recent deal, Bannon reached an agreement with a golf ball distributor to market Sport's Publishing's golfing titles to golf pro shops.
Bannon also expects to add more sponsored books to its list this year. The company tested eight titles in 2002 with no complaints, Bannon said. The book ads, mostly corporate image ads, will be limited to encyclopedia, reference or anniversary titles, and could generate $30,000 to $40,000 per title. Without the ad support, Bannon estimated, about half of the 20 ad-supported titles would not have been published. Another unconventional approach taken by Sports Publishing has to do with remainders. Instead of selling the titles to a remainder house, Sports Publishing has begun selling the titles at cost to fund-raising groups, and Bannon said the company has disposed of about 35,000 books since the program launched in December.
Other initiatives for 2003 include pursuing foreign rights opportunities; a book on the Chinese basketball star Yao Ming is in the works as a prelude to a possible deal to crack the Chinese market. Bannon would also like to raise Sports Publishing's corporate profile. "We've spent years beneath the radar," Bannon said, but a higher profile could help attract new authors as well as new customers.