State of the Blog: A New Plan

Dylan Burkhardt

The end of the college basketball season is sudden. In the blink of an eye, the crescendo of tournament play is over and the last five months are a blur.

It’s an oddly numbing feeling after spending the last few weeks covering seven basketball games in three cities in 14 days. There’s no game to recap and there’s no next opponent to preview after a few weeks where it felt like there was nothing else to do. The season is over and we settle in for another offseason of speculation, recruiting and roster movement.

It’s also another opportunity to look back at how long I’ve been doing this and start to think seriously about what’s next. We’re coming to the end of the month number 113 of UM Hoops and it’s edging toward the time to think about how long this keeps going and how it works out in the future.

I don’t want to shut the site down and truly value the Michigan basketball community that has developed, but there are also realities at play. It still takes a lot of work, time and money and it hasn’t been the best two years for the site in terms of traffic growth.

There aren’t many independent basketball sites out there like this one that provide in-person coverage of almost every game — home or away — and provide the sort of exhaustive content that we strive to create. We’re proud of it, but are also starting to recognize why there aren’t more. It’s hard to pull off. Especially at a school where it feels like the football coach could garner more attention for a Tweet than the basketball team could by winning a game (or five).

This site has always been funded by a mix of donations from people like you and advertising money. The hope was always to move from the former to a completely advertising-driven product, but staying in this niche I’m not sure that we’ll ever be able to reach the  level we hoped.

There are bigger players out there in that space and there’s far better ‘viral’ content to drive pageviews than in-depth analysis of Michigan basketball.

Faced with the proposition of shutting the site down, cutting resources, or limiting what we do, the better option might be to flip the script in the opposite direction.

We want to get rid of ads, focus on quality content and leverage a subscription-donation model. The idea is that this will allow us to focus more on what’s most important — creating quality Michigan basketball content — and less about generating traffic or maximizing revenue.

No ads means a cleaner design and easier-to-access content — a better user experience for everyone involved.

We’re not going to a completely premium or subscription-based model, but we’re offering the option to pledge support on a monthly basis and receive access to some exclusives. Those who pledge $4 (or more) per month — the cost of a latte at Starbucks — will receive:

  • Weekly Recruiting Roundup
  • Biweekly (weekly in-season) column on Michigan hoops
  • Monthly ‘ask me anything’ conversation

We’re also offering a reward tier for $8/month that will enter you in a drawing to receive either a UM Hoops mug, T-shirt or framed photo print each month.

You can pledge using the button below:
Become a Patron!

To be honest, I have no idea if this will work. But continuing on the current path without a change isn’t going to work out either. The idea is that we’ll build up a solid base that can support running the site. That means paying to keep the servers running, supporting the staff, traveling to games and keeping this thing in motion.

Once we reach a goal of $2,500 per month in pledges, we’ll remove ads and focus on re-designing the site to make it easier to navigate and consume. If we can make it to that point, then I think the subscription model — proven out by individuals like Derek Bodner or sites like The Athletic — might just work moving forward.

This site wouldn’t still exist without all of your support over the years and it’s pretty amazing that we’ve made it this far. I have no idea what the future holds, but also am excited to cover a Michigan team next season that might feature the most unique roster under John Beilein. Hopefully this is a pivot that continues to make this site viable for the foreseeable future.

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  • Niels Rosenquist

    Good luck Dylan. I follow Derek Bodner (and subscribe) and hope this model works out for you.

    • realber

      Happy to subscribe. This is hands down the best site covering Michigan basketball. Dylan and staff, keep up the awesome coverage. I hope all readers and supporters of UMhoops can chip in a few bucks a month so we can continue getting the unique and in-depth insights you guys provide.

  • geoffclarke

    Dylan, this is a fantastic site and thank you for keeping it going and educating Michigan hoops fans.

  • gobluemd16

    UMHoops is probably the site I visit most on the internet, so this a no-brainer to “subscribe.” Not enough thanks goes to you, Dylan, and company for all the work you guys put in — I hope this model works out in keeping the site going for years to come. One question: I see the three specified areas that subscribers will receive; is this in addition to regular previews, recaps, etc. or are you planning to change the frequency of posts on the site? Thanks again for all the amazing, in depth content this past season.

    • Other stuff should continue as normal. Maybe at some point down the line we put more or less stuff under the Patreon umbrella, but starting with this stuff.

  • The Athletic

    Good luck! Discerning fans — and there are a lot of them — will vote with their wallets and subscribe.

  • H

    Thanks for your hard work for so many years! This is an amazing website!

    I think that if you want people to pay for a subscription, you should make the game recaps also be pay-walled. The content you put out is fantastic and paying $4 a month is more than fair. I suspect you might get more subscribers if the articles that we count on (game recaps, etc.) are only available by subscription. Also, I can’t speak for others, but the ads don’t bother me personally. Even if I’m paying for a subscription, I don’t mind at all seeing the occasional ad if it helps the site stay in the black.

    Thanks for the awesome work! Good luck with the changes!

    • Appreciate the support! There’s definitely a chance that we could adjust what’s for subscribers and vice-versa in the future, but will have the juggle that when the time comes.

      As for the ads, some of them I think are fine, but there are probably too many now. And with the different ad networks you can run into weird re-directs on mobile and things like that. Reducing them and focusing on key sponsorships like UGP/Moes while streamlining the site and making it cleaner would be a big benefit I think.

      • MaizeBlue10

        I know the point is to get rid of advertising! Figured I’d ask even though I’m sure you tried this or just declined to do it since you didn’t want to impact your look/feel, but have you tried placing a 728×90 or 300×250 ad slot above the fold on the homepage?

        Viewability is one of the hottest topics in the ad world, so getting one or two ad slots in view at page load may really help for networks/DSPs bidding. My assumption is your 728×90 ad slot on the forum brings in the most money.

        Either way, I love the site and have definitely thankful for your work and coverage! I’ll definitely be looking into pledging!

  • Mark Worthley

    Good luck.

  • bebopson

    signed up. my go-to site for um basketball. show some love everybody!

  • MrLG

    I don’t think the goal should be no ads. A few display ads are OK. It’s the video ads that are horrible.

    • jemblue

      Yeah, banner/side ads really don’t bother me. I’ll click on some if it can bring some additional revenue.

      The auto-playing videos are the one thing that are to be avoided.

  • Paul M. Garcia

    Signed up! Been a visitor here for a long time and Love the site. Go Blue!

  • ChathaM

    It’s hard to quantify how much this site adds to the Michigan basketball experience. But, I know it adds more than 4 bucks per month. Please step up and become a patron.

  • Foul_Trouble

    Done. I have read this site faithfully since you started it. It’s been fun to see the data analytics get more advanced over time too. Happy to contribute to your monthly gas money. Also, I agree with MrLG…I’m not contributing so that ads will disappear, and really don’t care if you change your mind.

  • michiganman777

    a few things.. 1st of all I have been visiting this site since season 1. I love it. You guys kick ass.
    I dont think a few adds is a problem. Especially if it keeps you guys above water. I think you should add a 3rd option on the donation page where a subscriber can pick how much money a month they can donate (above 8 bucks) for all the ballers out here lol.. Another cheap bonus you could add for $8 members is free ticket give-a-ways. I usually buy the 5 (or 6) game package every year and they end up being pretty cheap per ticket if you do the deal. It might be similar in price to the t-shirt and mug idea that may not be that enticing to a lot of bball fans..Keep up the good work!

  • TOTO-Lover

    I signed up as soon as i saw Dylan’s tweet, and i re-tweeted it myself. Everyone should do that. UM hoops is a great resource and made even the games i had to watch alone at home a community experience. $8/mo! Keep up the good work

  • Anonymous7092

    Congratulations, Dylan, on a bold step into the future. It won’t be long before more writers and publishers realize the new business model is making your readers into your customers, instead of the product you sell on advertisers. (If you think there’s a future in online advertising, ask yourself when the last time was that you actually clicked on an online ad on purpose.) The AMA access is a smart move, too.

    I’m pledged, and I hope it works out for UMHoops. Either way, I compliment you on your foresight.

  • mikey_mac

    Dylan, I applaud your willingness to try something very different. I wish you all the best and will be pledging.
    May I suggest as patron content, a return of the in-season player progress updates, maybe just focusing on one or two players a week? Now that you’ve gotten very good at integrating data visualizations, perhaps the previous subjective weekly 1-10 score could be replaced with some trailing 5-game rolling averages on a few stats of note for a given player. Thinking about MAAR as an example from this past season, seeing his 3PA/FGA rate, and his PNR usage shoot vs. pass, as rolling averages, plus your analysis/writeup, would’ve been very interesting at different points during the season.

  • Brian in NYC

    Thanks for all you do, Dylan and the UM Hoops team! You guys make following the Wolverines that much better every year. I’ve always considered my donations to be my “subscription” so I’m happy to put it down for real. Keep up the good work, best of luck with the new model, and Go Blue!