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Final Buzzer Sounds for The National

JUST 18 months after taking over as editor and publisher of The National, Frank Deford announced that a $100 million loss has forced the daily sports paper to close its doors. Staff members were told that yesterday's edition would be the last. Mr. Deford pointed to recessionary pressures and distribution problems as the leading causes of the paper's demise.

``In these times, you not only take the back seat, you take the rumble seat,'' Deford said, who left Sports Illustrated magazine to plan the newspaper and put together its staff. ``That's what made the short-term future look so very, very devastating.''

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Approximately 200 editorial and 100 business staff members had been assured in recent months owner Emilio Azcarraga of Mexico would support the paper for at least two more years. But shortfalls in circulation coupled with the lack of advertising revenue pulled the paper down more quickly than anticipated.

The paper has lost money steadily since its inception and recently raised its newsstand price from 50 cents to 75 cents. The paper's circulation of about 240,000 was far short of its goal of 1 million. Efficient distribution was also difficult because of the timing of sporting events.

``It's a daunting challange ... to distibute not only a daily newspaper, but one that must have the late scores,'' Deford said. ``Our games did not end until after midnight and people wanted the paper with the full results on their porch at 6 o'clock in the morning.''

Mr. Azcarraga owns Televisa, Mexico's largest private television network, and Univisa, its subsidiary in the United States.

The National began publishing in January of 1990 after recruiting some of the best-known sports writers and editors in the country.

At first, The National published every day except Saturday but soon cut out its Sunday edition as early losses exceeded projections.

The National's strategy was to win readers with star columnists and long feature stories but was apparently a victim of a sports media glut.

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The paper expanded its circulation from its original three cities of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to most major cities, but switched to more national coverage instead of trying to compete with local newspapers. None of the changes prevented the loss of millions of dollars a month.

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