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January 1&15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more 25 Years in Sports Publishing
With a freshly minted MBA in hand, Mitch Rogatz, the founder and president of Triumph Books, contemplated the future. Publishing, he decided, might be a “sexier” way to make a living than investment banking, the typical career path for MBAs. He got his feet wet at Bonus Books in the 1980s, and then, in 1989, he launched Triumph Books, now celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary and widely recognized as the leading sports publisher in the U.S. What began as a one-man show run from a windowless office in Chicago’s Printers’ Row neighborhood has grown into a thriving and innovative indie publisher (a few years ago, Random House acquired Triumph, but then, in a move to warm indie hearts everywhere, Rogatz bought his company back from the publishing giant).
In the beginning, Rogatz published a cross section of general-interest nonfiction, even including a collection of Booklist reviews aimed at general readers. None of those non-sports books did all that well, however, but Rogatz’s experience partnering with ALA and with Arthur Andersen (on an international business desk reference) helped establish his credibility with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, with whom he signed a deal in 1993 to repackage the NCAA’s football media guides as consumer books. That effort was a success and led to other sports-based publishing partnerships with the NCAA in addition to Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NASCAR, and the PGA Tour.
Off and running, Rogatz made sure that his company continued to live up to its buoyantly optimistic name with still more triumphs. Recognizing that sports are headline driven, Triumph dove headlong into the “instant book” business, producing a number-one New York Times best-seller with Dale Earnhardt: Remembering the Intimidator, published 10 days after the NASCAR legend’s death. Other “instants” would follow, commemorating World Series and Super Bowl champions (including the 2005 White Sox). The Earnhardt book, which has sold 250,000 copies, remains Triumph’s number-two all-time best-seller. So what’s number one? In one of those juicy ironies that make publishing such a delightfully unpredictable business, the top spot, with 300,000 copies sold, is not held by a sports book but, instead, by Bieber Fever. Rogatz notes, almost sheepishly, that he couldn’t resist “jumping on the Bieber craze.”
Although Rogatz and his colleagues have excelled at headline-driven publishing, everything isn’t done in an instant at Triumph, as traditionally published sports autobiographies, memoirs, and histories appear regularly on the company’s lists, as do several ongoing series marketed to fans in particular cities. These include oral histories (see We Are the Bears! and We Are the Giants!, reviewed in this issue) as well as compendiums of facts about specific teams (100 Things Rangers Fans Should Know and Do before They Die!).
While the ravages of time aren’t quite so hard on sports publishers as they are on athletes, it’s still no small feat to have sent hundreds of sports books up to the publishing plate over two and a half decades and watched most of them spray crisp base hits to all fields. With a sense of what sports fans want to read as sharp as Ted Williams’ eye for strikes and balls, Rogatz plans to keep swinging for quite a few more seasons: “We need to stay relevant with the audiences who can buy books in mass-market channels while continuing to publish a bedrock backlist.” Baseball general managers might translate that game plan to “keep your stars happy, but don’t forget to develop your farm system.”
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