OT: UM Hoops moving to subscription model

Submitted by Magnus on March 28th, 2017 at 2:41 PM

Today Dylan from UM Hoops posted about the site moving to a subscription model. Apparently, site growth and advertising revenue aren't enough to continue making it worthwhile to cover so many games, write so much content, etc.

I've wondered about the subscription model coming here to MGoBlog. I know Matt Pargoff uses it for his site, though I don't know how much traffic he gets. Obviously, Rivals, Scout, and 247 all have sites that offer subscriptions. I think ad revenue is dropping across the board, so people are having to come up with new ways to make a go of it.

Anyway, Dylan wants to get to $2,500/month in subscriptions/donations. Feel free to contribute if you like their content. Here's the link:

http://www.umhoops.com/2017/03/28/state-blog-new-plan/

Comments

ijohnb

March 28th, 2017 at 2:52 PM ^

Michigan is playing well and the basketball program is relevant, I think the content here is just as good and sometimes better.  I think that is the problem that UM Hoops has.  When the fan base is invested this site delivers great basketball content and this is my first click of the morning anyway so I kind of get it here first.  I have stopped going there for the most part, but not because I don't like it, it just ends up being redundant.

 

stephenrjking

March 28th, 2017 at 2:57 PM ^

More to the point, the dedicated fanbase for Michigan basketball is pretty small. I follow Dylan on twitter and enjoy his stuff, but when the team isn't doing well <cough>January<cough> I'm not really inclined to read extra content.

This site covers all the major Michigan sports at least somewhat and has a huge readership that looks at other places only rarely. I have no idea what the numbers look like across different media but it wouldn't surprise me at all to find that this site gets more eyeballs than, say, Angelique Chengelis. So a lot of people that aren't dedicated basketball fans but root for the team can get their fill in the place they already go, which is here. 

Niels

March 28th, 2017 at 3:13 PM ^

Dylan mentioned Derek Bodner, a beat writer for the Sixers (and sys admin dude in his spare time) who has had some success so far (approx 1700 subscribers monthly after doing this for 3 weeks). Derek did a Reddit AMA recently where he talked about the pros and cons of a subscription-based approach, which I found pretty interesting.

For a site with the traffic of mgoblog and (I suspect) the demographic profile of readers, I think that ad money can go a long way to supporting the site along with podcast sponsorships, etc. Could be wrong but that is my guess.

I subscribed to UMHoops though I don't visit close to as often as Mgoblog because I'm lucky enough to be in a position to afford it and believe in supporting independent journalism whenever I can (especially these days) 

 

 

Rod Torfelson

March 28th, 2017 at 9:32 PM ^

The CJR has recently interviewed both Bodner and NSCAR writer Jeff Gluck about their Patreon funding, which has allowed them who to continue to write for a living.

Gluck takes in close to $6500 a month from Patreon (keep in mind that's not all salary, as it also covers his considerable travel expenses), and Bodner $4500. As it's just a part-time gig for Bodner, he donates to charity a good portion of his Patreon money.

Thewy won't get rich, but they are making a living and generating excellent content.

 

ijohnb

March 28th, 2017 at 3:15 PM ^

content based issue that I have had with UM Hoops is how "stat heavy" their previews and reviews are.  Despite their up close and personal live coverage of the team, I feel like they just provide a very sanitized and detached narrative of the team and the games.  I feel like reading a lot of their stuff is just skipping over six paragraphs of numbers in order to get to the two paragraphs where something interesting might be written.  Take Brian and Ace, I don't read their write ups because they can recite endless statistics, I read them because it is good writing and typically enhances my perspective.  I can't really say the same about UM Hoops.

ypsituckyboy

March 28th, 2017 at 3:43 PM ^

This.

I think it's the single biggest reason why UMHoops has had a hard time getting traction (aside from the obvious hoops/football popularity disparity). Brian/Ace have created a certain kind of voice for MGoBlog. I could read 10 writing samples and pick out which one they wrote. I can't say the same for UMHoops. The site needs moar feelingsball.

That critique aside, I really appreciate all of the years where they covered hoops when MGoBlog had more or less abandoned it.

OC_Blue

March 28th, 2017 at 3:50 PM ^

Completely agree with this point and it's similar to the issue I have with the Alex Cook articles on this site.  UMHoops has solid, stat-based writing but offers very few opinions or insights that I couldn't find in a box score and the writing style isn't fun and interesting.  I don't follow Michigan hockey very closely, especially the last few years, but when Brian writes about the program, I read it.  People can go anywhere for stats - and I imagine they will go elsewhere from UMHoops now for the most part.  Great writing with style and unique references is hard to find and builds a strong, loyal following.

M-Dog

March 28th, 2017 at 4:31 PM ^

That's the strength of Brian and crew    . . . they can do the hard core statistics, but then they mix it with analysis and "what does it all mean" writing that is on-point and also entertaining.

That's not an easy thing to do, especially across several major sports.

They deserve the success they have.

 

egrfree2rhyme

March 28th, 2017 at 3:53 PM ^

I actually really like how statistics driven the analysis at UMhoops is.  MGoBlog has great hoops analysis as well; I like that the analysis at the two sites is different because UMhoops pays such close attention to the statistical side of things. 

I'm really interested in all the stats that they provide and I don't know where I could find them throughout the season without UMhoops.  

When the team is good, I read all the content on UMhoops and MGoBlog and I rarely feel like the coverage provided by both sites was redundant. 

ijohnb

March 29th, 2017 at 7:08 AM ^

I do, but that is not all statistics either. It is insightful, humorous and informative with a mix of statistics and editorializing. I don't "not like" UM Hoops, I am just identifying one issue that could contribute to their lack of traffic. Ultimately it often seems like an endless "box score." I have been on the site in spurts for years and have been kind of waiting for it to evolve and I don't think it has. It has not really taken on a "personality" like I had hoped.

charblue.

March 28th, 2017 at 7:32 PM ^

for me unless the team is playing well and I want to know more. But in the absence of information here, on recruiting, scheduling and backgrouunding of team information, it's a go-to site.

julesh

March 28th, 2017 at 2:51 PM ^

I think a Patron model is a good one. Going the Rivals/247/etc. model where you tease things but then they are behind a paywall is terrible. This way you know what content you are paying for, and what you are going to miss out on by not paying, and can decide if it's worth it. I would support mgoblog going that route.

stephenrjking

March 28th, 2017 at 2:54 PM ^

Obviously, I hope this site does not go to a subscription model. I believe it does impressive volume for a site of this type, and obviously Brian has been able to grow the business enough to pay full-time employees.

I do know that when the HTTV kickstarter for 2014 was lagging (last year of Hoke, naturally our enthusiasm was a bit sapped) Seth remarked that if the kickstarter did not reach goal things would be rather dicey. I suspect that HTTV is considered a significant part of his job, though that's not my business and they have no obligation to discuss that with us.

What's nice about this site is that it has a critical mass that makes non-subscription arrangements more feasible.

JLo

March 28th, 2017 at 3:58 PM ^

Per Quantcast, mgoblog had about 400k unique visitors last month, with over 7 million total page views.  (I personally accounted for a sizeable fraction of that.)

UMHoops has a much lower volume.  Over the last month--which has to be peak season for a basketball blog--they've got about 120k uniques and less than 600k views.  A typical month looks to be more like 40k uniques and around 200k page views.  It's a lot harder to make a living on advertising revenue with those numbers.

FauxMo

March 28th, 2017 at 2:59 PM ^

It's the Michigan-hating liberal media and their bias, I tells ya. Back in my day, women wore dresses, "the gays" stayed closeted, and UM Hoops was free!!!! 

EQ RC Blue

March 28th, 2017 at 3:02 PM ^

And it isn't close.  From analytics to game recaps to play breakdowns, from understanding stats to traditional hoops concepts, from top to bottom, Dylan and co do it best.  

ak47

March 28th, 2017 at 3:14 PM ^

Yeah this site does a good job recapping basketball, umhoops covers the basketball team like mgoblog covers football though. It's a step above in terms of content, the Michigan basketball fan base just doesn't seem large enough to drive that

FrankMurphy

March 28th, 2017 at 3:25 PM ^

This is probably the only site that I visit regularly and that I would pony up to keep reading if it went to a subscription model. Every other site that I visit, I would probably stop visiting if they ever put their content behind a paywall. 

jblaze

March 28th, 2017 at 3:36 PM ^

I think it makes sense for UMHoops, because MBB isn't as popular as football, which is the bread and butter form MGoBlog.

I'm not sure how accurate these are, but a quick google search leads me to the the "total visits on desktop, mobile, and web) of:

UMHoops.com: ~70,000 to 400,000 (400K is around NCAA tournament time, of course)

MGoblog: 1.2M to 2M

Brian

March 28th, 2017 at 3:44 PM ^

This site will never go to a subscription model, at least insofar as that means content behind a paywall. It simply does not need to, because Michigan fans are legion and provided sweet-ass CPMs. 

I've thought about adding a subscription that gives you a donor badge, no ads, annual HTTV and shirt, that kind of thing, but mostly because I assume some adblockers would like to support the site and I'd like to provide an avenue. That would be post site revamp. 

There is likely to be a small fee for creating an account in the future, but mostly for troll/spam control. 

A fix for the apps is priority #2, with site revamp priority #1. Hopefully by next football season.

Christicks

March 28th, 2017 at 4:03 PM ^

I work for a large corporation managing our programmatic digital media spend, which basically means we pay to serve ads to specific people.  While analyzing the domains we served for a diapers campaign, I found good ole MGoBlog toward the top of the list.  Made me proud of this site, but also made me question our targeting abilities.  In any event, make sure you prioritize viewability and you will continue to win on the exchanges.  TV CPMs are rising, so as the digital market continues to shift more heavily toward video you should try to work those placements into the experience.

M-Dog

March 28th, 2017 at 6:00 PM ^

Every time my wfe or daughter walk in the room there is invariably some Russian/Asian/Arab/Hispanic girl showing cleavage in an ad on the sidebar.

Since they get shoe ads on the internet by actually shopping for shoes . . . they are beginning to wonder what I am up to.

 

FauxMo

March 28th, 2017 at 6:22 PM ^

You left out the best part of the story. The part where you say, "but honey, it's not my fault. It's the cookies!" And then she says, "oh, so you like that woman's cookies, do you? What's wrong with MY cookies?? That's it, I'm calling my lawyer..." 

stephenrjking

March 28th, 2017 at 4:20 PM ^

I think a premium subscription that doesn't actually separate between those who pay and those who don't in any significant way is a doable idea. It seems to me that while there is some premium content, UMhoops is kind of doing this, too--non-regular viewers can still see almost all of the same content. 

There is appeal to those who would like to support the site and want to get something tangible for it, but that aren't just doing it to get for-pay content. Depending upon the price I would almost certainly be a customer.

Key thing is that the regular community needs to be unaffected--if someone like Mad Hatter is low on cash and can't donate, he should still be able to read and interact with everything the same way. 

Frankly, last year I plopped money down for HTTV entirely because I enjoyed the season preview week so much I felt I owed it to the site, rather than any real desire to have it. I did enjoy the Don Brown article, though.

Zak

March 29th, 2017 at 7:30 AM ^

I think it is smart to focus on the site overhaul before the apps. If the site overhaul is done well, it will eliminate the need to have an app for anyone who is casually browsing or reading but not participating in the comments very much.

A responsive site that displays well on mobile browsers would be just as good as an app for all but the biggest power users who spend so much time commenting on here. Obviously, those users are important, and losing one power user probably hurts revenue more than losing one casual browser, but I'm sure power users make up a small percentage of the user base.

M-Dog

March 28th, 2017 at 4:24 PM ^

I don't subscribe to a single thing on the internet, but if MGoBlog went to a subcription model, I would sign up.

It would proabably lose too much reach if it went to a pure subscription model, but it might be able to make a two-tier model work - free general access, and "premium" subscription access on top of that.

Obviously the premium subscription access would have to bring something to the table to make people want to sign up - unique/inside info, special access to the blog writters, enhanced features, etc., but I believe that MGoBlog could do that if anyone can.  

Wouldn't you have loved to be a fly on the wall during the Brandon escapade and the various coaching searches?

As a Michigan B-School grad, I'm fascinated by the econmics of a single-team blog like MGoBlog.  How do you make it financially viable?  Will Brian be able to feed a growing family and retire off of it?  What do you do when user growth tops out (no mattter how good it is, you are not going to have hordes of Texas / USC / etc. fans on here on a daily basis).  It has a ceiling.

It's a very interesting business model, unique to the internet era. 

Magnus

March 28th, 2017 at 4:33 PM ^

"As a Michigan B-School grad, I'm fascinated by the econmics of a single-team blog like MGoBlog.  How do you make it financially viable?  Will Brian be able to feed a growing family and retire off of it?  What do you do when user growth tops out (no mattter how good it is, you are not going to have hordes of Texas / USC / etc. fans on here on a daily basis).  It has a ceiling."

Yeah, it's something I have become more and more interested in as I've seen some of the behind-the-scenes pros/cons of running a blog. I don't do it full-time like Brian and Co., but I've been doing it enough to see some of the limitations. Like you said, there are a lot of Michigan fans, but other than a few Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State fans who want to branch out a little bit, there's only so much growth you can do. 

To some extent, though, I think it's an issue that the U of M Athletic Department also sees. It's not just relegated to the internet. T-shirts, hats, season tickets, etc. are only going to be purchased by Michigan alums and fans, not Texas or USC fans. Obviously, that's a much larger scale and there are more varied opportunities for advertising, seat licenses, etc., but there is an upper limit.

ST3

March 28th, 2017 at 4:38 PM ^

I, too, am fascinated by blog economics. Andrew Sullivan's blog went to a subscription model. He would post updates on subscriber numbers and total dollars raised. I believe he got up to around $1M in annual revenue. This was enough to run the servers, have a staff of a few bloggers and pay them health care. Just as he was getting into the recurring phase of the business (annual subscriptions were being renewed,) he burned out and shut the blog down. It's good that Brian has Seth to take some of the business-burdens off of him so he can focus on the writing and vision stuff.

The ad-based model works if the topic is broad enough to engage a large user-base. Michigan athletics fits that. Michigan basketball likely doesn't.

With ads, donations, t-shirt sales, and HTTV-type items, there appears to be enough revenue sources to keep this blog going. At least I hope so. The real challenge is maintaining creativity from the writing staff when daily content is demanded by the rampaging hordes of MGoUsers.

P.S. However, the whole model breaks down when folks start turning in their MGoPoints for those shiny bolivars.