Ad-Free and Play Index Changes Coming to Baseball-Reference.com

The Play Index launched on Baseball-Reference.com 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 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’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 Baseball-Reference.com (and the to be launched Stathead.com 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


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