From the Green Bay Packers’ Cheeseheads to Philadelphia’s Phillies Phanatics, sports fans are famously devoted to their teams. Several publishers are tapping into that potential market with books that promise a peek inside the locker room, offer a new look at a historic season, or capture the excitement of a recent championship win.
“For us, it’s about the team’s fan base,” says Andrea Baird, marketing manager for Chicago-based Triumph Books. “In terms of regional publishing, there’s a nice balance between large markets, such as New York and Boston, and smaller [geographic] markets... with teams whose fan bases extend well beyond their area, such as St. Louis and Green Bay.”
Triumph produces several series that delve into the minutiae of individual teams: 100 Things, If These Walls Could Talk, and the new Numbers Don’t Lie. The publisher has also gained recognition for its “instant books,” which are shipped to retailers within three days after a national championship game is played.
For the recent New England Patriots’ nail-biting Super Bowl win, Triumph partnered with the Boston Globe to produce the paperback Pumped. (Undeniable, a photo-driven hardcover also published in partnership with the Globe, took a few weeks longer to prepare.) Before the game, the publisher prepared two placeholder covers for Pumped—one for each adversary—with an ISBN ready for both possible books. That made it possible for Pumped to be posted to Pinterest and tweeted within 15 seconds of the game’s conclusion. (Pumped is this week’s third-bestselling sports book, according to Nielsen BookScan; see the rest of the top 10 on the Bestseller Stat Shot, p. 3. The official cover, featuring a photo from the game, hit social media the next day. Triumph printed 50,000 copies of Pumped for distribution to retailers, including big-box stores, drugstore chains, and booksellers.
In addition to its annual Super Bowl titles, Triumph prints instant books for all major championships, from the World Series and the Stanley Cup Finals to the men’s NCAA football tournament. Several university presses also publish collegiate sports titles as well as books on the pros. In April, University of Minnesota Press is releasing Tony Oliva: The Life and Times of a Minnesota Twins Legend, by Thom Henninger, a Baseball Digest associate editor and St. Paul native. On deck for Syracuse University Press is Leveling the Playing Field: The Story of the Syracuse 8, by David Marc (June), about the African-American members of the 1969–1970 SU football team. Texas A&M University Press is launching the Spirit of Sport series in the fall; the inaugural list includes Cougars in the Crosshairs: Courageous Coaches Integrate College Athletics in the South, by Robert D. Jacobus, about the 1968 University of Houston Cougars’ upset of the UCLA Bruins.
“We’re fans, too,” says Tom Swanson, regional and special sales manager for University of Nebraska Press. “When it comes to regional sports, who better than a regional publisher to provide the fan base with great books?”Swanson points to a robust sports publishing list, whose forthcoming titles include a few of local interest: Forever Red: More Confessions of a Cornhusker Fan, by Steve Smith (Sept.), and Nebrasketball: Coach Tim Miles and a Big Ten Team on the Rise, by Scott Winter (Oct.).
Sports Publishing, which Skyhorse acquired at the end of 2010, is another producer of focused series for superfans. The imprint’s Game of My Life series looks at some of the biggest moments in a team’s history; the Tales From series brings readers to the sidelines, the dugout, and the locker room. Bill Wolfsthal, Skyhorse executive director of sales and marketing, says standalone books such as Legends of N.C. State Basketball: Dick Dickey, Tommy Burleson, David Thompson, Jim Valvano, and Other Wolfpack Stars (Mar.) also do well. He expects to sell 10,000–20,000 copies of the N.C. State title, based on sales of other books on “brand name” college basketball and football programs; the book, he predicts, will sell for years on backlist.
“We’re not publishing books for the 114 million people who watched the Super Bowl this year,” Wolfsthal says. “We’re publishing for the people who year-round live, eat, and drink football.”