Posted by sean on May 13, 2020
The Play Index first launched on Baseball-Reference.com over thirteen years ago and has been one of the most used research tools for baseball ever since. Many of these tools have been recreated on our Basketball, Football, Hockey and College sites over the last twelve years, and, likewise, they have earned a dedicated user base of their own. Our Baseball Play Index was always a subscription product, but we never applied that model to the other sports' tools. It was always our intention to charge for these products, but for a variety of reasons that never happened.
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 Basketball, Football, Hockey, and College Play Indexes represent well under 1% of our revenue. 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 for us to re-think how these tools are positioned within our constellation of sites.
While Sports Reference is doing 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. With the economic downturn currently taking place, our ad revenue is down significantly as well.
In addition, 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 Stathead.com. Stathead.com 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've started with baseball and are proceeding through the remainder of our sports over the next two months. Also, we have ended our dedicated 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 began in April for baseball and will be followed by Hockey in May, Basketball and probably Football in June and then College over the summer.
You can try out Stathead Baseball now. If you do a little digging, you will see that we are charging $8/month for a single sport and subscribing to all sports will cost $16/month. We realize moving from free to $8/month is a big ask, but we feel the tools provide a great deal of value and also believe that we can't continue to support the products without a viable revenue stream.
During the deployment of these changes, the existing Play Indexes will remain free.