July 14, 2010 11:55:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- David Johnson is a realist.
He knows the economy isn''t in the greatest shape.
And as someone who has worked in magazines and in newspapers in the region, Johnson also knows the publishing business has seen its share of hard times.
But Johnson believes he has the right product and even better support to take on the challenge of giving Mississippi State, University of Mississippi, and University of Alabama sports fans what they need.
Johnson has teamed with former Ole Miss football standout Terrence Metcalf and Dr. Michael Abraham, of Oxford, to form College Sports Publishing. Their group will make its debut next month with the first issue of Gametime Oxford, a magazine that will be available Aug. 5. On Sept. 1, the first issues of Bully Magazine and Alabama Illustrated will hit the news stands.
"No one is immune from what is going on in the economy right now," said Johnson, who will be executive editor of the publications. "However, you can be a lot stronger in this community if you have a product that is catering to a niche, whose number are allegiant, so to speak.
"Has the economy done anything to damper the interest in Ole Miss, Mississippi State, or Alabama athletics? I haven''t seen any indication of that. I know Ole Miss season ticket sales are at an all-time high, Alabama just expanded their stadium and it seats more than 102,000 now, and ticket sales at Mississippi State are going extremely well. I think we''re in a niche that is somewhat isolated from what is going on in the economy, and, at the same time, is about as passionate as it comes."
The full-color, monthly magazines will provide stories and pictures of all sports at the three schools. It will be available free at locations around the states of Mississippi and Alabama, and will be available by subscription for $60 for 12 issues.
Johnson worked as publisher for a weekly newspaper in Cleveland and as an editor for a similar magazine, Memphis Tiger Times, so he understands what it will take for the magazines to succeed. He said the initial revenue goals have been met and that each issue of the magazine will feature 60-80 pages filled with stories about all sports and plenty of pictures.
Johnson, who is from Cleveland, graduated from Delta State. He became friends with Metcalf and Abraham while their children played in a youth football league. Through the years, talk turned to sports and then to thoughts of starting magazines that catered to the passions of college sports fans. The conversations became more focused and morphed into a business model, which allowed the men to begin securing financial backing.
With sound support in each location behind them, Johnson said the group is putting the final pieces together to deliver a product that resembles Sports Illustrated, one of the nation''s top sports magazines, in presentation, organization, and content.
"We want our identity to be a publication that is 100 percent behind the success of the athletic teams at each of the three universities," Johnson said. "Our challenge is very simple: Putting out a product that is worthy of being associated with the athletic programs at those three fine universities."
Metcalf, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound offensive lineman, was a third-round pick of the Chicago Bears in the 2002 NFL draft. He played seven seasons with the Bears, starting 25 games and appearing in 84. His best season came in 2005, when he started 13 games and helped the Bears go 11-5 and win the NFC North Division title.
Metcalf, who is from Clarksdale, was released by the Bears in March 2009. He signed with the Detroit Lions in August 2009 and was released the next month in one of the final roster cuts. In June, he signed a one-year contract with the New Orleans Saints.
Metcalf, a human resource management major at Ole Miss, said he is excited about being involved in publications that can help him keep up with members of his extended family in the Southeastern Conference.
"To have this going on is huge for me. It is my thing," Metcalf said. "It is what I can give back to the conference that gave me my start and the ability to go to the League."
Reverend Jonathan Tucker, who is Metcalf''s pastor at the New Birth Community Church in New Albany, listened to Metcalf talk about the project, heard his enthusiasm for it, and decided to become an investor. He, too, is well aware of the challenges that face a new magazine, but he is familiar with the passion his parishioners have for sports, especially football, and is confident the magazines will offer what fans want.
"I had a chance to see what they were doing in the office and I saw the great potential," said Tucker, whose wife, Scherrita, attended MSU. "I believe the magazines will possess the attitude of the magnitude of the sports events that go on at the schools. Once you have the attitude of the magnitude being printed, the altitude of College Sports Publishing and all of us investors goes to the top. I am excited about it."
Mississippi State fans can go to www.bullymagazine.com to get more information about securing a subscription.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.