SBJ/October 24 - 30, 2005/Media

Worldwide Leader becomes more of a reader

At Bristol University, they’re hitting the books — or at least selling them.

With the release of four books since last month, making seven for the year, ESPN has become a new force in the stodgy, old, book-publishing industry, having placed one title on the New York Times best-seller list and preparing an ambitious multimedia project about Jackie Robinson.

“Now I Can Die in Peace,” an anthology of Boston Red Sox-obsessed columns by’s “The Sports Guy,” Bill Simmons, was No. 17 on the hard-cover, nonfiction best-seller list last week.

With 500,000 unique visitors reading Simmons’ columns every month online, ESPN barely had to spend a dime to market the book. Simmons attracted huge crowds for signings around the country, even in enemy territory such as New York.

Most of the authors of ESPN books already have some tie to ESPN and then do a run of publicity through interviews on ESPN Radio, chats on and various on-air mentions on the television networks. When analyst Lee Corso needs an obscure stat on the set of ESPN’s “College Football GameDay” show, he can be seen thumbing through the “ESPN College Football Encyclopedia.”

The other ESPN titles released this fall are “The Best Hand I Ever Played,” in which top poker players discuss strategy with online ESPN Poker Club columnist Steve Rosenbloom, and “Rules of the Red Rubber Ball,” a self-help booklet in which athletic trainer-turned-motivational speaker Kevin Carroll uses sports to offer life lessons.

ESPN has published books since 1997, but this year it nearly doubled the number of releases as the book division “became a more formal part of the company,” said Gary Hoenig, who serves as executive editor of ESPN Books and editor-in-chief of ESPN The Magazine.

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