A fellow can chuckle about it now, but SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S earliest efforts to sell magazines were sometimes more fitful than funny. During our infancy, for example, we tried to peddle copies at big-league ball parks and football stadiums. Then it dawned on us that fans don't do a lot of reading while watching sports events. On one occasion, Robert E. Cowin, SI's circulation director, engaged a persuasive character known as Horse Thief to sell the magazine at the Indianapolis 500—a daylong picnic where people might read. Had there been any horses about, our man at Indy might have lived up to the full promise of his name. As it was, he yielded to the temptations at hand, disappearing with the receipts from 4,000 copies of SI.
This is an article from the Oct. 27, 1969 issue
Fortunately, the primary purpose of our early circulation schemes was not to generate immediate profit but merely to expose our young sports magazine to the public. Cowin, an able businessman whose easy manner always belied the trials of the moment, has over the years shown a special knack for reaching readers. Most others who helped launch the magazine in 1954 have moved upward or outward (our first advertising director has since become a Methodist minister), but Bob has remained the only circulation director SI ever had.
Now he is departing, too, moving up to become an aide to Bernie Auer, Time Inc.'s executive vice-president for magazine publishing. Our circulation has increased during his tenure from an initial 450,000 to two million by next Jan. 1. Good salesman that he is, Bob Cowin credits the product for his success. "We're producing a very contemporary magazine," he says. "After that first rocky period, people began taking a second look at us. They liked what they saw, which made me look awfully good."
Cowin's successor, Bernard LeSage, until now the assistant circulation director, is a short (5'6"), convivial man who brings to his assignment the enthusiasm of an exclamation mark. A native of North Adams, Mass., Bernie was a good enough holler-guy catcher back at The Choate School and Williams College to have attracted the attention of the Boston Red Sox but not, he reckoned, good enough to hold it. He joined Time Inc.'s circulation department on April Fools' Day 1950 and switched to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in 1956. An inveterate gardener, Bernie tends 15 acres of daffodils, tulips and irises at his home in Madison, Conn. Reasoning that "if you plant enough, something's bound to come up," he adds simply: "I like to make things grow." And that is a wonderful philosophy for a circulation director.
Another masthead change in this issue reflects the departure of Richard Munro, SI's general manager. Dick has been named the first president of Pioneer Press, Time Inc.'s Illinois-based newspaper subsidiary recently formed by the merger of Pioneer Publishing Company and the Hollister newspaper chain. His replacement—with the title of business manager—is Peter Hanson. Peter is 6'8". We are confident he will be a good substitute at center.