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Paddy Power unveils free football mag: 'You can do incredible things in print'


By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

August 5, 2019 | 6 min read

Irish bookmaker Paddy Power has made an unexpected push into print with the release of free football magazine Pitch Invader. It suspects the magazine will fill a gap in the market – and give punters the knowledge base to start gambling again after the summer break.

Paul Mallon, head of major brand activations, told The Drum that Pitch Invader, inspired by FourFourTwo's revival under editor James Brown, Mundial and even out-of-print free mag Shortlist, is not "a glossy pamphlet to sell betting offers".

The 48-page one-off magazine will hit a 1.2m circulation (about the same as the Daily Mail) and "is a monster," said Mallon. "When we do something, we sometimes stretch it a lot and go too big.”

The mag's in-house studio team of six was led through this project by Lee Price, Paddy Power’s head of PR, who spent six years at The Sun as a feature writer. Also bringing print experience is Mallon and PR Rachael Kane who combined boast 24 years at The Irish Star. Meanwhile, the bookie's production team were happy to take a step-up from "resizing banner ads" and flex their creative chops.

This week, Pitch Invader will be distributed across the UK and Ireland by Reach newspaper titles with covers tailored to feature locally-relevant stars. Mick McCarthy fronts the The Irish Mirror, Celtic’s Scott Brown leads The Daily Record, pundit Mark Lawrenson takes centre stage in The Liverpool Echo while former Manchester United captain Paul Ince is the face of The Manchester Evening News version. The Mirror, distributed nationally, features Emanuel Petit.

Emanuel Petit

Bolstering the distribution, it is “pumping a couple of hundred thousand” issues into 600 Paddy Power stores across the UK and Ireland. Further bundles will land in select greasy spoon cafes and some 227 Stonegate pubs such as Sports Bar and Grill, Yates and Walkabout venues where live sport is shown.

But the launch is not a radical shift from the bookmaker. "We might take your money but we're going to entertain you and give you some bang for your buck," said Mallon, referring to the fact the brand has "invested heavily in content for years and years". This includes the 2011 push into social media and news.

Now the print offering helps Paddy Power reach a "slightly older football demographic". Mallon laughed at himself calling Pitch Invader an "innovative and disruptive product" but noted that the format "has more salience and trust than online" and it was unexpected for the bookmaker to take this course.

How Pitch Invader was created

Mallon heaped praise on PR chief Price's project which started as a WhatsApp conversation. Mallon said: "We really missed football magazines. We like the inky dirty feel of a real football paper and wondered where the gap in the market was."

Back in 2012, Paddy Power research identified that football fans, firstly greatly miss football during the summer, and secondly are cautious of gambling when the new season starts due to what Paddy Power calls a 'knowledge wipe’. The bookmaker thinks it will benefit from entertaining and informing readers about football news and trends.

With help from media planning agency MediaCom, the idea took off and now Paddy Power joins Airbnb, Asos, Bumble, Casper, Dollar Shave Club, Facebook and Net-a-Porter in running a branded mag. Even Netflix bought up a single branded issue of out-of-print NME. The agency identified that many people still get their football news from print.

Mallon believes that the best way to promote the brand is by producing a great mag, not a brochure filled with betting ads.

He said: “There's very little about betting in this mag – unless it's really contextual within the interviews and it makes sense. There are no betting previews. We may get some heat for that from some punters but we want to give them more editorial value.

“Advertising your brand is more important and the technology can take care of the rest.”

As print publications hungrily court advertisers, the deep pockets of Paddy Power mean it doesn't have to. Instead, Paddy Power is running spoof ads. Mallon joked that he did offer rivals Betfair space.

Paddy Power spoof ads

Mag editor Price (who took a few moments from his wedding celebrations to answer some questions), said: "At Paddy Power, we are football fans who have been avidly counting down the days to the new season.

“With so few options for a proper, comprehensive guide to the forthcoming campaign, we wanted to offer a definitive season preview for our punters - with a heavy dollop of PP mischief running throughout it."

Why a magazine?

In the coming weeks, Mallon expects to see some significant brand uplift and hints that the print venture could return quarterly or linked with its many stunts.

He said: "You can do incredible things with the print product and then take it digital." The animated covers of Time and The Economist is somewhere Paddy Power could take this product online, he hinted.

"We're kind of going backwards with this. Starting with a print product line and looking to digitize at some point.”

By entertaining, running stunts and taking social stances (like support for LGBT athletes), the hope is that the betting audience will have Paddy Power at front of mind "maybe a few times a year".

Mallon concluded: "The benefit of having a brand behind it is that we have deep pockets to do print. It is incredibly expensive but we can continue to do it if we show some ROI - and I think we will."

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