Sports Reference Blog

Why the Ads on Sports Reference Are Sometimes Terrible

Posted by sean on September 13, 2016

One of the things I pride myself on at Sports Reference is that our sites are fast and not annoying. We want to connect you with the data you want, as quickly as possible, every single time. We spend a lot of time trying to make this happen.

We have another important goal with our site, which is to make money. We have seven full-time employees maintaining our sites on a daily basis, so if we don't generate a significant amount of revenue, things will start to go south for us reasonably quickly. We spend a lot of time thinking about that as well, and for a small-to-medium-sized publisher like us, that means running advertisements on our site.

Unfortunately, sometimes the ads that come through our site cause serious problems for users. This is a constant source of frustration for us, so I wanted to take this moment to explain how this happens. I realize we are 100% responsible for what we put on our pages, and so any ad that is served on our page is ultimately our responsibility and the fault lies with us for any negative impacts from an ad.

As a medium-sized publisher, we generally rely on programmatic ads rather than bespoke ads. A bespoke ad would be an ad that we went out and sold to someone like Chevy, Crest, or the next big movie and then ran on the site. We aren't big enough to get meetings with people like that. They just don't want to waste their time with dropping five or six figure ad buys on a lot of smaller sites. So instead we deal with programmatic ad brokers like Google AdSense, Taboola, Criteo, Rubicon Project and dozens of others. We deal with just a couple of them.

To serve these ads, we insert a simple program into our page called an ad tag and when you come to the page the ad company tries to find a valuable ad to show you. They may try a dozen of their partners until finding an ad that is suitable for you. Or you may just get a remnant (the least valuable ads) like the ubiquitous Netflix, Dollar Shave Club or those really tacky mortgage refi ads.

We are very clear with our ad providers that, for our ads, we want:

1) No auto-play ads with volume on,
2) No page takeovers that keep people from scrolling, hijack their page, or cover the content, and
3) Obviously no malware or downloads or anything suspicious like that.

Unfortunately, in the last year we've had 3-5 episodes where at least one of the above have happened, which is incredibly frustrating to us and we know to you, as well.

It happens because often the ad served to you is four jumps down the path from our initial ad tag, so someone somewhere along the line either mis-configured something or allowed a bad advert to slip into their system. We didn't approve that ad, but it comes through our page nonetheless. When this happens we have 2-3 people going through the site in question trying to figure out where the ad is coming from and how it's being served. This can take hours, and at times it's simply impossible to figure out who produced the ad and who is sending it out. We may not even be able to get the ad to show up on our site when we use it. When we are able to figure it out, we alert our ad provider and typically they will take down the ad.

Personally, I would love to move away from an ad-supported model. The sites are so fast without ads and I think we provide something unique to users that perhaps some number would pay for, so maybe we'll explore that option.

But in the interim, I'm sorry if you see a malicious ad on the site. If you report it either via our feedback form or on twitter, we'll try to fix the issue as fast as we can.

You can also surf our sites ad-free.

4 Responses to “Why the Ads on Sports Reference Are Sometimes Terrible”

  1. John Sursely Says:

    You make me want to hit up Chevy or Crest and say you could reach a lot more people here at pro...etc.

  2. Jason Winter Says:

    I've been thinking on and off over the past few weeks about how sites like or crowdfunding sites like Patreon work and wondering if it could be applied to S-R. To put it simply, people throw money at content creators because they like what they do. In return, they usually get some small benefit -- a fancy user icon, ability to enter contests, etc. It's technically a donation, but it also provides some small prize, so it feels worthwhile.

    The closest thing I've thought of is your page sponsorships, which are limited in that they only allow one sponsor. The "crowdfunding" approach would allow as many people to sponsor it as they liked -- at a reduced rate from current prices, of course. You might be better off getting $10 from 30 people who like Miguel Cabrera than waiting for one person to pony up $725. Of course, the problem then is that you wouldn't want 20 messages clogging up his page.

    I wonder if S-R seems too "big" or "professional" to an actual Patreon, whereby if you get enough donations, you do some kind of extra content, like a podcast or video. Just trying to think outside the box a little. I know a few talented people, with smaller reaches than S-R, who have made pretty good livings at that sort of thing.

  3. Coach Mark Says:

    I surf with my Lumia 635 running Winphone 10 and have problems with your blog ads. I keep displaying on my screen. I do not know if there is any thing wrong or not. Just followed sports-reference for a couple of months.

  4. Mike Lynch Says:

    Mark, what seems to be the issue? Please send us as many details as you can via this form: