I started Pirates Prospects a little over six years ago. I was living in Virginia, just outside of Lynchburg, and decided to start a blog to write about my trips to see the Pirates’ High-A team. This was all during the time when the economy was horrible, and people were losing their jobs left and right. I also lost my job, and immediately started focusing more attention on this site. Part of that was to keep my work ethic up while looking for work. Eventually, it was due to the fact that this site became my only hope for a full-time job that had any security.
I don’t know when I made the decision to go all-in with this site, but I do know it was very early. It was around the time I released the first Prospect Guide. I thought at the time I could make things work with a high amount of page views, advertising revenue from those views, and book sales to supplement the down months when baseball wasn’t around.
The plan worked, to a certain extent. The site became my full-time job, which was the initial goal. But along the way I wanted to expand the site, finding a way to offer more content, while also finding a way to provide writing opportunities for others. This proved to be very difficult under the free plan, and saw several instances early on where I was either selling off almost everything I owned to make things work, or taking short-term loans from family or friends to stay afloat.
There have been many times where I’ve said I have no desire to run a subscription site. Things probably would have been much easier under a subscription model, but I never liked the idea of paying for something that you previously received for free. But I’ve been thinking about it over the last year, and realized that you need some sort of consistent and reliable revenue to run a successful online outlet. Newspapers sell newspapers and local ads. Big online sites like ESPN, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and others sell subscriptions for some or most of their content. I realized that if I ever wanted the site to expand in the way I hoped it would expand, I would need to switch to a subscription site.
On April 13th, Pirates Prospects will become a subscription site.
First, I want to make it clear that the focus here is to build a much better site, and ensure that Pirates Prospects is around for the long-run. I created this site with nothing, and very limited revenues along the way. I want to create a site with the best Pirates coverage throughout the system that anyone could imagine, and the only way to do this is through the subscription model.
I also want to make another thing clear: I am terrified of this change. This site has always been independent. I have always been taking personal risks to make this site work. The difference is that a few years ago I didn’t have much to lose, since I was trying to create a job for myself. This time around I’m risking a job that I don’t really need to risk, all to create a bigger and better site for everyone.
I run simulations and projections on spreadsheets daily. Actually, hourly would be more accurate. I’ve talked with Dejan Kovacevic multiple times about his experiences on this subject. As you may know, Dejan started his own independent subscription site last year. Since he started the site, I’ve been thinking more and more about the subscription model. Our talks this Spring actually spawned from a simple question he had for me out of the blue when we first saw each other: “Why wouldn’t you charge for your site? You offer something no one else has!”
What Dejan was talking about was our in-depth coverage of the Pirates’ minor league system. I feel we also offer a unique perspective of the big-league club as well, even with the limited resources. We cover the system like no one else, and that will always be priority number one. A subscription site will only improve on that.
With a subscription site, I can afford to pay writers in every minor league city to provide reports from every home game. This would lead to a lot of exciting new features, and a ton of prospect coverage. Each week we would have an article displaying 10-15 player reports from each level. Those player reports would all be collected on the player pages, with each player’s page displaying every scouting report and featured article we ever wrote about the player, allowing you to track their progression over time.
We would be able to go down to the Dominican Republic to provide reports each year from the Dominican Academy. We would be able to offer daily reports from instructs, while also covering the MLB playoffs when the Pirates make it. We’d cover the Arizona Fall League, and we’d have room left over in the budget for any other coverage that comes up.
On top of that, we’d have a budget that would allow us to hire a full-time beat writer. When I say that, I mean offering competitive pay that would allow us to get a big writer to cover the MLB team. That writer would be the voice of the MLB coverage for the site.
Looking at long-term dreams, I could see a scenario where we’d have a beat writer and a photographer covering every game of the Pirates’ season, along with all of our minor league coverage from every level, and hiring a former player or scout to travel around and get scouting reports on every minor leaguer in the system throughout the year, serving as a “regional scout”.
So what would we need to achieve these goals? Right now the site averages 20,000 unique visitors per day. I think we can get 8,000 annual subscribers easily, just based on how many repeat visitors per day we have. I’d like to get to 12,000, since that would open so many more possibilities. And for the ultimate long-term goal, I’ll show you what we could do with 20,000+ annual subscribers.
With 8,000 subscribers, we could offer coverage from every minor league city.
We could have a full-time beat writer with the Pirates, covering every home game, and providing analysis when the team is on the road. We’d also have photographs from the games.
We’d have three full-time positions, including myself, covering everything from benefits to health care for those employees.
And we’d be able to travel throughout the year for the events I mentioned above.
The 12,000 mark would allow us to add two very important things. The biggest thing would be a full-time editor for the site. Right now that job is one of many jobs I have on the site, and I don’t do the best job in that role, because I have so many other responsibilities. But the current revenue model doesn’t allow for an editor to fit in the budget. A subscription site would allow for that, leading to better quality articles.
We’d also have much more for travel, leading to a few road games during the MLB season. It would also lead to the MLB beat writer and a photographer covering Spring Training in Bradenton, while I focus full-time on the minor league side.
I’d also hire part-time writers in Bradenton for the minor league season, allowing me to expand my role to be a “regional scout” that travels to every minor league city multiple times per year to see every player in the system. That would give at least two people’s opinion on every player during the season.
It would be amazing if the site got to this point. Right now I’m considering it a long-term goal. But here are the massive improvements we could make at this level.
First, I’d be able to afford to make our photographer, David Hague, our fifth full-time employee, and I’d be able to send David and our beat writer to cover every Pirates’ game of the season, along with coverage during Spring Training. I actually mapped out the Pirates schedule, looked up flight, hotel, and rental car costs for every trip, calculated meal money and other travel expenses, and then added a big cushion to the travel budget to get an idea of what this would cost.
The next exciting thing would be the ability to hire a former minor league player or a former scout to serve in that “regional scout” role I mentioned above, traveling to every minor league city and providing reports from the eye of someone who had been in the game on a professional level.
Keeping the Site Around Long-Term
I mentioned above that one of the goals for a subscription site was making sure Pirates Prospects is around for the long-term. That’s just not possible under an advertising-based plan.
Our current business model relies on page views, and it’s possible for this to be my full-time job because we get so many views. We’ve topped ten million views per year over the last two years. Revenue from ad networks are based on cost per thousand page views. We usually generate around $4 per 1000 views. That amount on a high traffic site, plus the book sales, has been enough to fund our current limited operations.
The problem is that this $4 figure isn’t consistent from month-to-month, or year-to-year. I’ll give you a real example that happened to me in 2013. In 2012, we had 7.5 M page views, and I projected we would top 10 M in 2013. I planned the budget accordingly, and hired writers based on those projections. We did top 10 M page views in 2013. The only problem was that our top ad network seriously under-performed, and we ended up making less than $3 per thousand views. The result was a $12,000 difference between what we would have made with the previous year’s revenues, and what we actually made. I didn’t actually lose $12,000 that year, but the loss was several thousand dollars of my own money. One more hit like that, and there is no more future for the site. And that’s frustrating when the advertising process is something you can’t control.
I feel like I’d have better control of a subscription model. That’s not relying on an ad sales department selling a large group of sites to a bunch of potential sponsors. It’s relying on the site’s ability to generate strong content, and to provide a product worth paying for. Performance from ad networks have nothing to do with the quality of the site. Subscription counts have everything to do with the quality of the site. I’d rather bet on this site to generate ad revenues.
A subscription site would also remove any risks of the site taking a hit for reasons that have nothing to do with the site. Under the current model, if I had a big life event, such as an illness or a child or a personal setback, I’d have to take away resources from the site. That’s because I basically take what I need to live on, and use the rest to grow the site. A subscription model will add personal security for myself, while also setting a separate budget for site expenses.
Overall, the subscription model provides security. There is personal security for myself, which I feel is totally fine to ask for in exchange for all of the work I put into running this site. There’s also the security of a long-term future for this site.
So what will a subscription to Pirates Prospects cost? I wanted to keep it low, because I think we can do all of the above at every level without charging a huge amount. I’ve researched every site for pricing points. A few team prospect sites that have changed to subscription sites in the last few years are charging $5 per month. I’m not even sure if they provide the coverage I’m describing above.
I’m going much lower than that, charging $2.99 per month. If you buy an annual subscription, it would be $29.99, which saves over 15%. A three-year subscription, which would be our “Top Prospect” plan, would be $79.99 total, giving you a 25% discount over the life of the plan.
Under this subscription plan, you can not only keep this site running for the long-run, but you can make it the best site I can possibly imagine for Pirates coverage. In the process, you can create anywhere from two to five additional full-time jobs (excluding myself), plus part-time work for up to eight additional people. You’d be financially supporting 10-14 people for their hard work, while getting the best Pirates coverage in return, and all for a small monthly cost that amounts to a daily expense like a cup of coffee that you wouldn’t think twice about paying.
I’m excited about the possibilities with the new format, as well as the future of the site. I hope that you will join me in helping this site become the best source for all Pirates news throughout the system. The site will switch over on April 13th, but you can sign up now by choosing from one of the three plans below (your subscription will officially begin on the 13th).