Metro: rail contract up for grabs
It was Railtrack that set the scene for Fleet Street’s latest speculation that Rupert Murdoch is to launch a free newspaper in London and the South East against Associated’s Metro.
Railtrack wrote to media groups to say that Associated’s contract for distribution of Metro at main London railway stations, and some on commuter routes into the capital, would be up for grabs in March – and inviting them to tender.
Sunday Telegraph City editor Neil Bennett broke the news, giving a detailed account last weekend of a Murdoch plan for a 24-hour free paper "that would trigger an all-out war with Lord Rothermere’s newspapers".
Murdoch, in talks with Railtrack’s advertising sales agency, Maiden Outdoor, had bid £4m a year for the contract, Bennett wrote, which was more than three times the sum paid by Associated.
The industry was taken aback and highly sceptical that Murdoch would launch a paper dependent on advertising while the advertising industry was in a recession. Could he just be trying to make Associated pay through the nose for the privilege of renewing the contract? Those with long memories recall the London Evening Post, Murdoch’s mythical plan for a rival to the Evening Standard, which masked the move of his national titles to Wapping.
More likely, think some, since Associated has a long-term contract with London Underground for distributing Metro, Murdoch’s eye is really on the Standard’s market.
Associated sources believe the company will be ready to match and top any bid by Murdoch for the Metro/ Railtrack contract to protect the new, rich young readership it has created for Metro.
It could also broaden its battlefront by launching a red-top to take on The Sun.
By Jean Morgan