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Globe and Mail: Soccer mags in Canada

Guest Jeffery S.

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Guest Jeffery S.

A daring leap


Globe and Mail Update

June 19, 2007 at 3:00 PM EDT


Publishing soccer magazines in Canada has often been an exercise in frustration for footy fanatics who aim to profit from the world's most popular sport. But that has not deterred a trio of Vancouver enthusiasts who are gearing up to start their own soccer magazine later this month.

By launching the first 24-page issue of Free Kick on June 29, editor Carrie Serwetnyk and partners Fernando Fei and Kay Buchecha are heading down a path that has tripped up many of their well-meaning predecessors.

Recent casualties include World Football Pages, a New Westminster, B.C.-based monthly which stopped publishing in August 2005, because it couldn't achieve the readership it needed to attract key sponsors.

Inside Soccer, and other Canadian magazines that survive, are doing so because their publishers are working, quite often in their basements, and for the love of the sport rather than for the money.

Lack of profitability, they say, is attributable to the fact that the Canadian soccer community is fragmented along ethnic lines and because so much of what appears on the pages of domestic magazines is either available elsewhere or of no interest beyond the local community clubs who feature in them.

"I'm just glad that I'm not paying any rent,'' said Alfons Rubbens, who publishes Insider Soccer about four times a year from his home in Gormley, Ont.,

But in spite of the pitfalls, Serwetnyk and her partners seem determined to go ahead.

The first run of 10,000 Free Kick copies is timed to coincide with the start of the men's U20 world cup competition, an event that organizers say will attract 700,000 spectators to games in major cities across Canada, including Vancouver.

"We just saw an opportunity,'' explained Serwetnyk, a former Canadian women's national soccer team player, who is also the first female inductee to Canada's Soccer Hall of Fame.

She aims to target a community of men and women —including 130,000 registered players in B.C. — who may have a passion for soccer, but who might also like hiking, do Yoga, or stay at home and watch The Simpsons. "We are not just going after the Italian guy who sips cappuchino on Commercial Drive, because that audience is just too narrow," Serwetnyk said.

To reach a wider audience, Free Kick will avoid the traditional mix of community soccer league statistics, and international news stories that tend to appear in most soccer magazines.

Instead it will feature interviews with people like the Vancouver man who traveled to Ghana, West Africa to experience pickup soccer with people who use a ball made from paper and play in their bare feet.

In a nod to potential advertisers, Free Kick will run regular interviews with members of the Canadian national women's soccer team, including Kara Lang, who will talk about using Bikrams Yoga to stay fit.

Initially the magazine will be available for free, but only to readers in the Vancouver area. A web version is also in the works.

But with under two weeks to go before the first edition is due, Serwetnyk and her team are still trying to firm up commitments from possible advertisers such as London Drugs and Save-On-Foods.

If those efforts don't succeed, the three publishers will dip into their pockets to pay the printing costs, which are expected to be in the $6,000 to $8,000 range.

"This is a labor of love,'' said Serwetnyk who has convinced contributors like former Canadian national men's soccer team coach Tony Waiters to write for free.

In an interview she said she couldn't wait to put on her running shoes and begin the process of distributing the magazine at U20 World Cup games and cafes and bars in Vancouver.

Publishing industry sources say that is probably just a well because sports magazines, even in the ice hockey category, face so much competition from television, the Internet and daily newspapers.

"Sport tends to be all about yesterday's game, something that creates difficulties for monthly magazines,'' said Doug Bennett, publisher of Mississauga, Ont.-based Masthead Magaine, which is often described as the publishing industry bible in Canada.

He thinks Free Kick would stand a better chance in Toronto, where the launch of Toronto F.C. is generating fresh interest in a sport that has yet to achieve a genuine breakthrough in Canada.

"One of the biggest problems is distribution,'' said Richard Howes, publisher of The B.C. Soccer Web, which features on line news about local and international soccer.

One of the reasons why World Football Pages went down was because it wasn't widely available. "You can't read what you can't buy," said Waiters.

But as she gears up to distribute the first copies in Vancouver, Serwetnyk appears to be having too much fun to contemplate business failure.

"If it ended in September it would have fulfilled its purpose by creating positive energy for everyone involved in our magazine,'' she said.

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