At 5:45 each Tuesday evening a messenger leaves a printing plant on Rhode Island Avenue N.E. in Washington, D.C. Approximately 15 minutes later he arrives at the East Wing entrance to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and hands the guard there a package marked: For the President.
So it is that Citizen Gerald R. Ford receives his SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
It all began about a month ago when we heard from a friend in Washington that since charter subscriber Ford had moved his household from Alexandria, Va. to the White House he had not been receiving his magazine. Either it was not arriving at all or it was being lost in the avalanche of White House mail.
In any case, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED likes to keep its charter subscribers happy. Also its Presidents. So a few telephone calls were made, and Assistant Managing Editor Jack Tibby sent a telegram to White House Press Secretary Ron Nessen suggesting that we deliver Mr. Ford's copy by hand as soon as it comes off our Washington presses. Tibby, who knows the White House layout because he once made deliveries to Harry S. Truman when he was a Navy lieutenant in Washington, suggested the East Wing entrance. "It is closer and doesn't have as much traffic," he said.
Getting SPORTS ILLUSTRATED into the hands of 2¼ million subscribers each week, every one, we hope, as impatient as Gerald Ford, and doing it within a reasonable period of time, say before last week's MVP becomes next week's injured reserve, is a challenge that keeps us all alert. The growth of our own circulation over 20 years, the increasing inability of the postal system to cope with the country's mail, the decline of the railroads and the rise in the cost of everything are all problems that have required innovation in our distribution system. One printing plant, R.R. Donnelley in Chicago, used to be sufficient. Today we use four—in Chicago, Old Saybrook, Conn., Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles—geographically distributed to give the magazines a head-start toward their destinations.
Most copies of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED travel from the four printing plants to the major Post Office centers by truck. But to improve deliveries to some of the harder-to-reach corners of the country—the Southeast, the northern Rockies, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska—we have initiated airlifts to cities ranging from Anchorage to Miami. More recently we have been experimenting with containerization—the loading of magazines for a particular city into metal shipping boxes right at the printer and delivering them directly to an airport postal facility, thereby avoiding delay at the Post Office's congested "sectional" centers.
And to help the Post Office help us, we break up our mailings down by Zip Codes as far as we can to eliminate the need for multiple sorting.
SI's Circulation Director Christopher Meigher believes all the extra effort is worthwhile. "The delivery of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has become an institutionalized event," says Meigher. "It is part of people's life-style. Our readers identify closely with individual writers, and until Dan Jenkins, for instance, has explained why Woody Hayes couldn't beat Michigan State, or until they have read George Plimpton on the fight in Za√Øre, nobody quite believes what went on."
Tug McGraw has remarked, "You gotta believe," which was another way of saying you have to keep trying. And we will.