NY Press Owner Launches New Sports Paper

"No one else has done it," says publisher

The hottest rookie in New York sports doesn’t play for the Knicks, the Mets, or the Yankees: it’s the New York Sports Express, an offshoot of brash AAN member New York Press and Manhattan’s first free sports paper.

Why launch a free sports paper? Why not, says NYPress and New York Sports Express President and Publisher Chuck Coletti. “New York City is the biggest and best sports city in the country. No one else has done it — and I like the action of creating new product.”

“There really isn’t a dedicated sports weekly in town,” says Spike Vrusho, editor of the new paper. In the dailies, “you skip through the rest of the stuff you’re tired of hearing about — things like important political issues and international developments — to get right to what your local team’s doing and why they suck and who’s responsible.”

The paper shares the same editor in chief, Jeff Koyen, and the same “hip, irreverent” voice as the NYPress, says Coletti, but that’s where the similarities end. Although Vrusho and editor-at- large Matt Taibbi both also write for the Press, Coletti says the paper ultimately will have different contributors and editors than its alt-weekly cousin.

“We’re not going to do as good of a nitty-gritty sports reporting job as the New York Post, which is the best sports paper in this city,” says Coletti, who took over as publisher when Avalon Equity Partners bought the 15-year-old NYPress from founder Russ Smith in December 2002. “However, we analyze and we have commentary on sports, which you don’t find in the daily newspaper. What we give is a perspective and a point of view on sports, rather than the hard dry stats.”

There’s certainly not a dearth of sports stories in New York, and the NYSX isn’t just going to cover the Mets and the Yankees. “Along with the standards — both baseball teams, the Knicks, the Rangers — we always throw in some city sports like handball, or a fencing article, or maybe ping-pong,” says Vrusho, who’s currently working on a special issue for the kickoff of soccer’s English Premier League. “A lot of underdog sports will make their way into this paper. It’s a giant city, but sporting-wise it can be a very small town. Things can get overlooked.”

NYSX’s August 7th issue features a first-person account of the New York City Cycling Championship, a comparison of the week in the life of Yankees catcher John Flaherty and a Palm Springs pub named Flaherty’s, and Taibbi’s popular “The Blotter.” Taibbi’s column, a look at the week in sports crime, already has a “cult following,” says Vrusho — in no small part thanks to the handy cartoon symbols used as a quick scan of the crime (a tiny scantily-clad dancing woman is the symbol for “exotic dancer/hooker”; a gun stands for “unregistered handgun,” etc.)

NYSX has a current circulation of 50,000, and, according to Coletti, healthy distribution numbers. “Our first papers were getting about 60 percent pickup,” he says. “In this last analysis of the last paper, we had over 85 percent of the paper being picked up. My goal, which would be viewed as a home run, would be reaching 90 percent pickup.” Coletti isn’t planning to raise the circ number unless pickup goes past 90 percent, he says.

And even though advertising hasn’t been as robust as he’d like, the paper is already profitable, Coletti says. (In the 28-page August 7th edition, roughly 13.5 pages were ads.) “We’re making a couple of bucks. Not much; I could probably take a vacation on it,” he laughs, “but I couldn’t do much more than that. I budgeted the paper for being profitable right in the beginning. Being that we had the infrastructure all in place, it just cost less to launch.” The NYSX shares the New York Press’s sales, production and distribution staff, but it will have its own sales team by next year, he says.

Vrusho is still developing his long-term editorial plans. “I’d like to maybe bring in some cartoons,” he says. “We also might delve a little into sports media criticism, but not too much — the only bigger glut than sports media right now is media criticism, at least in this town.” The paper’s goal, he says, is “just to keep the way-too-serious sports fans laughing. That’s my bottom line. (We need to help them) from turning into Boston sports fans.”

Whitney Joiner is a freelance reporter based in New York City.