By Ross Stapleton

Earlier this year I got wind of
top secret plans by News Limited to launch a new glossy sports magazine that
would also act as a marketing booster for its daily metropolitan newspapers
– buy the Daily Telegraph, Courier-Mail or Herald Sun,
and for just $2 you can buy the magazine.

I discussed its existence with
senior Fairfax executives believing the Australian magazine market has long
cried out for an upmarket sports publication more along the lines of the
Observer Sport Monthly. I met with
strong agreement with those I spoke to who also believed the high quality OSM
was a great template for an Australian equivalent. But ultimately other Fairfax management
sat on their hands.

So having declared that little
“personal” conflict; today sees the arrival of Alpha on your newsstand at its $2
bargain price if you also buy a Murdoch daily – although that doesn’t appear to include The Australian.

So what’s it like? Well straight up it’s very good indeed
and certainly better than I expected; and given the sales mechanism involved, it’s
fantastic value for just $2 and a Murdoch paper. Newsagencies have been distributed copies based on a percentage of
their average daily relevant metropolitan sales with around “one million” launch
copies printed.

It looks and feels very much like
Time magazine/Sports Illustrated meets the AFR monthly magazine, and much less
Inside Sport. And it doesn’t have
the until now requisite male sports cover “babe” – instead offering three
leading football “studs” as an alternative. But inside, apart from a lot of the
by-the numbers smaller but still interesting reads, it boasts some excellent
longer pieces including an overdue look at the operation of leading NT sports
betting agency Centrebet, on-the-spot US profile of new NBA number one draft
pick Andrew Bogut, an Ashes preview, etc.

As a first issue it’s a terrific
effort and the Alpha team is to be thoroughly congratulated, and given its sales
price it must be a worry for Inside Sport. Lachlan Murdoch has said it will be given two years at its $2 price to become financially
viable – and it’s off to a flying start.

Peter Fray

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