Sports Reference Blog

Ad-Free and Play Index Changes Coming to

Posted by admin on March 4, 2020

The Play Index launched on over thirteen years ago and has been one of the most used research tools for baseball ever since. We've made a few additions over the years, but the tools have largely stayed the same and the price has only gone from $29/year to $36/year during those thirteen years.

The Sports Reference sites have continued to grow in traffic and advertising revenue over that time to the extent that the Play Index and our ad-free options are a very, very small portion of our revenue. Most of that is on us, as we have not done a great job of promoting and marketing tools that are highly valued by a dedicated group of users. The Baseball Play Index represents less than 4% of our revenue and ad-free memberships are less than 1%. In addition, the Play Index tools are complicated to maintain and manage, and quite frankly are a money-loser for us at this time. It's well past time to re-think how these tools are setup within our constellation of sites.

While Sports Reference is doing quite well overall, I'm not comfortable with having so much of our revenue dependent on advertising. We are very beholden to search engines continuing to send us traffic, and likewise the ad market can be fickle and difficult for a small to medium size operator to navigate.

Also, advertising on the sites does not make it easier for you to answer the questions you have. This is our primary mission. We maintain a relatively low level of advertising on the sites (at least compared to your regional newspaper), and we are loathe to add additional advertising units or more intrusive units. Some of you may use an ad blocker, in which case we are making no money from your use of the site at all, and the audience for our ad-free product has proven to be very small as well.

A subscription model aligns our interests much better with our users' interests as well. I realize that users are being asked to sign up for lots of subscriptions these days, but we feel the tools within the Play Index are so specialized and useful that they warrant a paywall.

So we are making some changes. The Play Index for each site will be moving to will become the center for all of our subscription products. We expect these products to include tools and information beyond just a redesigned set of Play Index tools. This won't happen all at once, but we'll start with baseball and then proceed through the remainder of our sports. Also, we will be ending our ad-free product and instead Stathead memberships will have ad-free built-in. There just aren't enough users to justify a separate ad-free product. These changes will begin this month and continue through April on baseball and then continue with the other sites after that.

If you are a subscriber, we will make every effort to make certain you are happy with the options we provide to convert your ad-free or Play Index subscription over to Stathead including the option of a refund on your subscription. You will be hearing more from us about the changes over the next few weeks as we will email users directly.

During the deployment of these changes, the Play Index on (and the to be launched Baseball) will be free. They will continue to be free through at least April 30th. If you are a current subscriber to either of our products, we have already extended your subscription by an additional two months during this free period.

--sean forman

27 Responses to “Ad-Free and Play Index Changes Coming to”

  1. Ad-Free and Play Index Changes Coming to - World Top Buzz Says:

    […] Play Index, Redesign, Statgeekery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own […]

  2. John Autin Says:

    I’m very sad to hear the ad-free subscription has proven untenable; I think it speaks ill of our society — anything to avoid paying out of pocket for valuable services.

    Thanks for trying to make it work, and please please please keep doing what you do. My happiness literally depends on a robust B-Ref and PI, whatever forms or names they may take!

  3. D.B. Firstman Says:

    Long Live the Play Index ...... its worth it at any price!

  4. Andrew Johnson Says:

    When will a breakdown of the differences between Play Index and Stathead be available? Really hoping for an API :)

  5. Bob Says:

    Any preliminary ideas on subscription costs?

  6. Victor Says:

    right now ad-free is 20 bucks a year. What would be the minimum subscription fees for the new product? Is it going to be a tiered system like now; or is it going to be a one price subscription model? If so, how much?


  7. Mark C. O'Connor Says:

    I love Baseball-Reference and use it all the time. I really appreciate having an ad-free experience and I have no issue with paying a membership, monthly fee, sponsorship, or what-have-you. I hope you come up with a new system soon. Thanks again for all the effort and creativity involved in this amazing site!

  8. Sean Smith Says:

    I don’t put a lot of value in ad-free because it only works if you’re logged in.  I can’t get my computers to stay logged in, even if I check a box.  

    If I come to the site to see what Lefty Grove’s ERA+ was in 1937, I would not waste the time to log in.  I can accept the ads.

    I’ll take the time to log in when I’m looking for something more complex that requires a PI search.

  9. Topher Says:

    I felt this was coming due to how useful the Play Index is. I'm already a $20 sub but will be interesting to see the new pricing breakdown going forward. Hopefully this can improve revenue.

  10. John Swol Says:

    What will happen to the links websites like mine have to PI results on B-R?
    Thank you,
    John swol

  11. Allen Hoag Says:

    I am writing a detailed history of the game and the play index tool has been invaluable to this undertaking. If the stathead product does not produce data with a similar format or easily usable results, as was the case with baseball reference, it will be of little value to researchers.

  12. daved Says:

    I don't get it.
    The play index stuff will be moved and this site will be just the stats stuff?

  13. John Bergen Says:

    Where is Jim Rice's 1978 season in the list of alltime best season ops..... He is left out for some reason.

  14. Seth Baker Says:

    I honestly have no idea what the play index tool is. I realize this comment added nothing of value to the conversation, and I do not apologize.

  15. Bradd Says:

    Ugh. Here we go. I once recommended to them that they include all of their available Play Indexes for all sports in one total cost, like $25 per-year or something. Now it seems it will be way more expensive than that. Great.

  16. Richard Chester Says:

    Running the PI event finder for HR in 2019 for all teams presents a table of the first 500 HR. The remainder of the 6000+ HR can be found by clicking on the tabs at the bottom of the Results Table one at a time. There are 14 tabs altogether. To place all the results into an Excel spreadsheet requires pasting the result tables one at a time. However by changing "divisory=1" in the browser to "divisory=0" and hitting enter, all of the 14 result sheets will appear on one sheet. Then the results of all data on the 14 tabs can be pasted at once into the spreadsheet. Mike Lynch has emailed me a link to the proposed revised version of the PI. Running the PI event finder for HR in 2019 presents a table with the first 500 HR just as the current version does, but the browser does not show "divisory=1". Will there still be a way to post all results on one page?

  17. Scott Lindholm Says:

    Pick a price, and us serious researchers will go along. Just don't go Pro Football Focus on us to around $2,500 (this is not a typo). Bit too steep a price increase for me...

  18. John Martick Says:

    A question for those who use the Payer Index. I currently subscribe to FanGraphs ($50/yr) and use it often to create my own player boards and leader boards. What are the key differences between PI and FG. I don't get into fantasy leagues, I just enjoy stat comparisons.

  19. Mike Lynch Says:

    Hi John,

    A full list of Stathead Baseball tools can be seen here:

    I've laid out some of their capabilities here:

  20. Joe Schuster Says:

    So, I went to Stathead but I cannot find a tutorial on how to use it. The screen that shows up seems to show a completed search for only a single statistical filter (say home runs, or  strike outs, or...) but does not seem to allow someone to search according to multiple fillers, as Play Index has allowed. Since Stathead will cost more than Play Index has cost, I would expect it would do more but at least on first glance, it seems to do less -- or am I missing something? 

  21. Richard Chester Says:

    Reply to Joe Schuster. Each time you enter a value into a filter box there is a prompt for another filter. And it goes on and on.

  22. Mike Lynch Says:

    Hi Joe,

    hpefully this tutorial helps:

    If not, please use the "Question, Comment, Feedback, or Correction" button the pages of our sites and we'll be happy to answer any questions

  23. Thomas Bradley Says:

    I realize that you have previously elected to defer to FanGraphs in having w/OBA and w/RC+ as stats.  Still, these are highly valued by many of us and certainly BR is the preferred site.  Is there any possibility these can come to pass even if your measurements differ from FG?   You are by far the preferred site and these stats do have desired value. Please!

  24. Mike Lynch Says:

    Thank you, Thomas. I can't promise an exact date, but please know this is in our plans

  25. Philip Says:

    Question for clarification, will BBRef now be behind a pay wall or just the play index?

  26. sean Says:

    Just the play index.

  27. Dean Says:

    When page sponsorships were removed, the two big reasons given were 1) money was coming in from Play Index/ad-free, and 2) many pages brought in so much ad revenue that it was unrealistic to ask users to spend enough to outweigh the loss of that revenue.

    It seems like it's now been determined that neither Play Index/ad-free nor advertising revenue is cutting it. As such, is the return of page sponsorships being considered?