It’s no wonder that sports media has become more focused, specific, and catered to individual audiences. Entertainment content has already trended that way. That’s why there are a ton of different television shows. That’s why ratings and consumption have dipped across the board. Demographics and content consumption are becoming more about engagement than it is about sheer numbers. It’s also one of the reasons why major historical publications and companies are laying off writers, or giving up on the written word altogether — hello Fox digital. Simply put, people want their content, they seemingly — at least if we look at the numbers — don’t want content designed for the masses. That creates a whole other problem with business issues. Ad revenues drop, monetizing content becomes more difficult. This could be a contributing factor leading to the subscription model for premium — market focused — content.
It’s already started. First, we have the rise of The Athletic. They branded themselves as “premium sports content for the diehard local fan.” Essentially consumers pay a subscription fee for content centered around their city and their teams. It takes out the ad revenue side since people are paying for the content, ad revenue generation is less important. There’s a break-even for any site that chooses this revenue model. Essentially they need to create enough subscriptions to fill their expenses which include overhead maintaining the site, marketing, salaries, etc.. With CPMs for static content continually not filling the void, and video becoming an easier sell to advertisers, subscription written sites have found a way around a major business problem. Google and Facebook have essentially created a duopoly when it comes to digital advertising. The subscription model is a way to combat that.
Of course people are so used to free content on the internet there are issues that these subscription models face. That hasn’t stopped other demographic or geographic focused content from popping up. Dejan Kovacevic launched DK Pittsburgh Sports (dkpittsburghsports.com), and Greg Bedard formerly of Sports Illustrated recently followed the idea with Boston Sports Journal (bostonsportsjournal.com). Again, the idea is simple: create content to a specific fanbase and hope they are willing to pay for premium content without superfluous advertisements, videos, pop-ups or anything else getting in the way. The idea is simple, but the execution is complicated.
There’s risks. We already reviewed the fact that most consumers are used to getting content for free. Why pay when they can get watered down content elsewhere? There’s also the risk that some of these sites have no one with business experience or tech experience tied to them. There will be growing pains. People could share log-ins creating less revenue. There’s also the worry of the saturated market. Bedard specifically is competing with the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, ESPN Boston, Barstool Sports, WEEI, NESN, and The Sports Hub. That doesn’t even take into consideration that the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins could all be labeled “national” teams when they are good.
Still, this is all an educated play. People want their content. They don’t want to have to search and scroll. That’s why there are team specific websites on SBNation or USA Today Sports Media Group’s football coverage. Everything needs to be specific. It’s the differentiation that makes difference. People will find a way to consume good content. It happened in normal media. People find specific things that they enjoy. The last water-cooler television show is Game of Thrones. It cuts across demographics and content preferences. How many times have you heard people tell you that you need to watch Suits, or Billions, or Ray Donovan, or Fargo, or Legion, or Suits, or Halt and Catch Fire, or Handmaid’s Tale or . . . you get the point. There’s so much different kinds of content that it’s splintered viewers and they want what they want. The subscription model for sports media digital content is a play to focus on a specific customer. This shouldn’t be a shock. We’ve always been trending toward this direction. There’s so much content out there that general, cookie cutter, content for everyone is dying. It’s part of how the business is evolving.