Rennie Media Inc. assets acquired by private investment group

In a move that drew little notice in the U.S., Canadian-based Rennie Media Inc, which included the Rennie's Sports Letter and the What's New What's Hot publication distributed at Outdoor Retailer and SIA trade shows, shut its doors mid-May after financial backing for the company was terminated.

In a move that drew little notice in the U.S., Canadian-based Rennie Media Inc, which included the Rennie's Sports Letter and the What's New What's Hot publication distributed at Outdoor Retailer and SIA trade shows, shut its doors mid-May after financial backing for the company was terminated.

SNEWS® has learned that Rennie Media Inc. was considering filing for bankruptcy protection. However, a private investment group that includes Michael McGrath, the former president and publisher of Time Magazine Canada, and various employees and contractors of Rennie Media Inc. acquired selected assets from a creditor prior to any official filing.

McGrath told SNEWS® that the company's databases, including the directories and newsletter were purchased, but he said trademarked assets, such as the What's New What's Hot name and Hockey Trades were not.

"All former Sports Letter subscriptions will be honored," McGrath stated, indicating to us that the official re-launch under the new company banner – Sports News International, Inc. -- will be on July 1, Canada Day.

Sheila Johnston, a longtime Rennie employee, will serve as the general manager of the new company, as well as managing the directories division. According to McGrath, the Hockey Directory will be published and printed shortly.

Joining Johnston from the old team is Kelly Falls, a former sales exec with Rennie, and now publisher of all electronic media.

"We are going to dramatically expand the new website," McGrath said. "Electronic publishing is the future of the industry, and for us that means everything – the Sports Letter, directories, etc. – will be published electronically."

McGrath has also hired a new editor, Wayne Karl, for the new Sports Letter. Hockey aficionados might recognize the name as the owner and publisher of Hockey Business Report, as well as a periodic hockey columnist with ESPN. Karl will continue to publish the Hockey Business Report, independent of his association with The Sports Letter.

Insiders tell us that the trouble for Rennie Media Inc. began when the new ownership group led by Bruce Morrison, who purchased the company from Mary Jane and Jim Rennie in 2002, decided to place more focus on consumer publications. Red ink began to bleed all over the financial statements, and that resulted in Llewellyn Smith, of E.D. Smith (a leading Canadian manufacturer of jams, sauces and pie fillings), losing confidence and pulling his financial backing of Morrison and company -- right before the launch of the first issue of a consumer magazine Outdoor Lifestyle went to press..

In all, 30 employees and contractors lost paychecks when the doors unexpectedly shut. McGrath told us that when his new company is fully staffed, it will number close to 15, including contractors and part-timers.

Former Rennie Media Inc. editor Bill Steinburg and associate editor Jeff Hieminga will not be continuing with the new company we've been told. Calls and emails to contact representatives of Rennie Media Inc. went unreturned.

Sports News International offices can be reached by calling 705-443-8152.

SNEWS® View: While the directories continued to maintain a strong position in the Canadian marketplace, it became evident to an increasing number of longtime U.S. and Canadian subscribers of The Sports Letter that with the sale to new owners in 2002, the publication lost a personal connection and inside voice that was provided by Jim Rennie. New ownership wasted no time in moving Rennie out to pasture, and that haste proved the company's undoing. Instead of focusing on trying to reach into the very risky consumer publication market, the new owners should have been spending more time and resources connecting with the industry and establishing a new insider voice or voices that could speak for it. Reading essentially reprinted press releases was not what subscribers of The Sports Letter of old were used to, but it became all too common under Morrison's watch. As a result, subscriptions, we were told, were declining. It is ironic that the new owner of Rennie Media assets, Michael McGrath, was actually one of the suitors seeking to purchase Rennie Publishing Inc. back in 2002. Had he been able to make a deal then, we wonder if things might be different now? The fact that McGrath will be focusing the company's resources on the electronic media and focusing on the trade bodes well for the Canadian sports trade markets that need a voice. Naturally, SNEWS® wishes McGrath and his new team much success – the Canadian market needs you.

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