Sports Reference Blog

Play Index Tools are Moving to

Posted by sean on May 13, 2020

The Play Index first launched on 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 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.

--sean forman

20 Responses to “Play Index Tools are Moving to”

  1. Grisha Says:

    Can i see play index tools without paying on basketball refrence or they all be shut down?

  2. Mike Lynch Says:

    Basketball Play Index tools will eventually be migrated to and will require a subscription

  3. Clifford D. McDowell Says:

    sean forman, I appreciate the full disclosure: It definitely makes the justification for a subscription model. I have muddled through the advertising for years without subscribing as I do not use the index daily; occasionally I would curse the somewhat intrusive ads :D This is a valuable tool that I enjoy. I am glad to help.

  4. Jonathan Says:

    Well this is god-awful news. As much as I love using this service, I definitely am not going to pay a monthly subscription for it.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Well it's been fun. I use PFR primarily for having a data table. Not worth $8, sorry.

  6. Ee Says:

    You want $200/year from me for play index? That’s more than double Disney+, pretty steep. Hope someone else recreates this at a reasonable price.

  7. Rui Maurício Says:

    As a Brazilian huge fan, $8 dollars mean a lot of money, so I probably won't be able to keep digging these amazing stats, but I thank you guys for the time I could happily enjoy this unique place for guys like me ❤️

  8. Adam Says:

    Will i still be able to view play index for for free once the switchover takes place? please tell me your not going the way of apple music?

  9. Cameron Says:

    Will $8/mo "Basketball" cover both college and pros? Will there be an annual membership discount?

    Finally, people need to stop complaining, PI is and has been amazing tool that we've been able to utilize for free, this could've been privatized or behind a paywall from the beginning. Be thankful, and fork over what's equivalent of 2 Starbucks drinks a month

  10. Mike Lynch Says:

    Thank you, Cameron

    Basketball will be just the pro site. The college sites will be packaged together, though.

    Eventually we will likely offer a discounted yearly rate.

  11. Mike Lynch Says:

    The PFR Play Index will be $8/month

  12. Johnnie Says:

    What if I just want to use it for 5 days?? Can I pay a few dollars to do that option... can I cancel the month subscription anytime?

  13. Alex Bonilla Says:

    You can cancel at any time, and we are offering first month free so people can try the tools before committing to pay for them.

  14. dlr Says:

    I love the basketball play index and I'm sorry to see it go.  Thanks for the comprehensive explanation.  As much I loved it, $8 a month seems like it's going to be a hard sell to put it
    mildly, particularly for people who use only one sport.  Please post a reminder if the terms are changed at some point.  Thanks for creating such a nice toy.

  15. Jason Perry Says:

    Is this JUST the granular play by play data thats going to paywall or is it all the info under the "play index" heading? I use this mainly for QB stats to each receiver. That won't be free anymore?

    Would you consider offering an 8month package for $50? Counting the free month, that would save us $6. Not a lot, but it adds up. I think an early June to early Feb package would be perfect for NFL users.

  16. Mike Lynch Says:

    Everything under the Play Index heading will be part of the subscription

    Don't have any other packages right now, but perhaps in the future

  17. Huston Youngblood Says:

    I am a user on Wikipedia that frequently cites your Reference links on the site. Occasionally, some users will use the Play Index to cite a reference for a claim made on an article. Once the Index is moved to Stathead for NFL, will it cause all of those old Play Index links to be defunct? If not defunct, will they be moved over to Stathead or remain on the original PFR mainframe for free? We would like an answer because if they go away, it will create a lot of work to find new references.

  18. Mike Lynch Says:

    Hi Huston,

    Do you have any examples you can share? If the link is a Tiny URL link, it will port over. If it's a full URL, it will not



  19. Huston Youngblood Says:

    Thanks for the response. Will the ported over tiny urls remain free for complete viewing or will it become subscription-based? Either way, your decision for this is understood and hope it works out well for you all and the users.

  20. Mike Lynch Says:

    Yes the Tiny URLs will remain free. Thank you