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The National, Sports Daily, To Fold

June 13, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ The National, the nation’s first all-sports daily newspaper, published its last issue Thursday. Lagging circulation doomed its ambitious 17-month effort to become profitable.

The final edition carried the banner headline ″WE HAD A BALL″ with ’The fat lady sings for us″ underneath.

″We were just losing too much money,″ Frank Deford, the paper’s editor and publisher, said moments after breaking the news to a stunned staff Wednesday.

He said the newspaper, controlled by Mexican media baron Emilio Azcarraga, lost about $100 million. That was about as much as Azcarraga reportedly was prepared to spend over the five years it was expected to take the newspaper to become profitable.

″If we were losing money and could see a turnaround that would be one thing,″ Deford said. ″But we were staring into the face of months and possibly years of no improvement.″

Azcarraga, who controls a television network in Mexico, shunned interviews throughout the paper’s brief life and was unavailable Wednesday to comment on its demise.

Reports earlier this year indicated Azcarraga had reviewed the paper’s prospects and decided to press ahead for another year, so news of the shutdown came as a shock to the staff, which included about 160 editorial staffers and another 100 business employees.

″It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop″ after the announcement, Deford said.

″I think this was a dream for a lot of us,″ said Jay Mariotti, one of the paper’s columnists. ″We all wanted it to make it.″

The National made a splashy debut on Jan. 31, 1990, after spending lavishly to attract a staff of big-name columnists and reporters.

Deford ended a long career with Sports Illustrated to join Azcarraga and fellow Princeton alumnus Peter Price to create a national sports paper similar to those popular in Europe and South America.

Critics cautioned, however, that casual sports fans already gets the sports information they want from local newspapers and aren’t much interested in other teams on a daily basis.

The newspaper started with editions in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and frequently would have different covers in each city to appeal to local readers. Last summer it added editions in eight other cities.

While the paper’s editorial quality generally was rated highly, the owners had more trouble than expected getting the paper distributed.

Initial hopes were that The National could reach an average paid circulation of about 400,000 a day by 1991 but Deford said circulation was averaging under 200,000 as the decision was made Monday to close it.

He said average circulation peaked at about 240,000 in December, but tumbled the next month after the paper’s price increased to 75 cents from 50 cents.

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