Special thanks to BJBSJ contributor, forensic accountant, math whiz, hot yoga instructor, and knife sharpener @bucknerslegs for putting the receipts together
Today he examines the impact that The Athletic has had on both Bostonsportsjournal.com and DK Pittsburgh and his findings are not pretty. At All.
Pittsburgh was beating Boston. You won’t (but probably will) believe what happened next…
We’ve done a thorough investigation of BostonSportsJournal’s subscriber and lifetime subscription rate. But how did we get here?
(Author’s note: summary and bonus lyrics at the end)
BSJ: Born in Pittsburgh
In July 2014, Dejan Kovacevic (DK), an accomplished Pittsburgh sports reporter, founded the pay subscription site dkpittsburghsports.com (PGH). Three years later, when Greg Bedard was looking to start his own site, he reached out to Dejan for advice. Ultimately, Greg liked Dejan’s website and business model, so he licensed the website design software from Dejan to use as the basis for Boston Sports Journal. Since these two websites are constructed with similar website design, and similar business models, it is fair to compare how well the two sites have done since their beginning.
First, let’s look at the pricing models:
The BSJ pricing should be compared with the PGH Old prices. BSJ went with a slightly higher price structure than DK. Given that DK raised his prices to match or exceed BSJ a year later, it is likely that DK advised BSJ on starting price points.
|Plan||Number of months||BSJ||PGH 2018||PGH Old||PGH Original|
|Wicked Diehard Level||240||299.99||250||250||250|
As dkpittsburghsports.com grew, DK had to build his website while more subscribers joined. By licensing the website structure, BSJ did not have to deal with the same growing pains. In the graph below, the total number of subscribers is shown for both BSJ and PGH since the day the sites started. Note that BSJ had quicker initial growth, mostly because it was able to leverage the maturity of the PGH web platform. Up to about 6000 subscriptions, the BSJ is outperforming PGH. However, at this point, the PGH site continues to increase its number of subscriptions, but the BSJ subscription rate flatlined. Notice also that PGH never quite reached 40,000 subscribers, but has been declining steadily since about 1200 days.
The lifetime subscription data for PGH was much harder to track down, so this graph has lots of missing data. One thing to note is that PGH grows the lifetime subscribers quickly, while the BSJ growth has also slowed. Does BSJ have the ability to grow lifetime subscribers? Hard to tell, but it seems unlikely. Also, PGH has declared that they will stop offering lifetime subscriptions once they reach 500. Most likely they have realized that lifetime subscriptions do not generate continuous revenue, but instead provide an upfront cash infusion. As I explained in a previous investigation, lifetime subscriptions lose revenue after about 12 years.
Converting Twitter Followers into Subscribers
I was curious how well the number of Twitter followers corresponded to the number of subscribers. In this table, we can see that PGH has significantly better ratios of Twitter followers to subscribers than BSJ does. DK has a ratio of more than 60%, while Bedard is only at 11%. The PGH official twitter has more subscribers than followers, which is twice the percentage of BSJ. Why do so few followers of Bedard and BSJ have subscriptions? I have no idea. At all.
|Twitter Handle||Number of Followers||Percent of Subs/Followers|
|BSJ – 9726 Sub||@GregABedard||86927||11.19%|
|PGH – 37309 Sub||@Dejan_Kovacevic||119720||31.16%|
Wait, What Happened?
So, what’s going on? Let’s try and figure out what happened to both BSJ’s lack of growth and PGH late decline. First, The Athletic has been a national site with a similar paywall model. Greg Bedard has expressed that he is not concerned with The Athletic, as he feels it’s not a hyperlocal experience (even though they hire local writers for each city they are in) and that he has not seen an impact of The Athletic on his website. Similarly, DK has not expressed concern about The Athletic, but, as I will show below, both sites should be very concerned about this alternative national site.
PGH had incredible growth over it’s first three years, reaching nearly 40,000 subscribers. That is amazing, and a testament to the hard work of the PGH site to write, promote and expand. At its peak, they offered both professional and collegiate sports coverage with a staff of about 20. However, in July 2017, two things happened that started a long slow slide for PGH. First, July 2017 was the renewal date for any three-year subscriptions that were signed up at the beginning of the site. This was the first opportunity to determine if those three-year subscribers were going to stay with the PGH site or cancel their subscriptions. I don’t have clear data for July, but on September 30, 2017, PGH reached 39,582 subscriptions, the best documented peak I could find. From this date forwards, I don’t have a single data point showing an increase in subscribers (side note: it’s interesting to see negative subscriber growth, since that is a question often asked about BSJ). Why is that? In September 2017, in the midst of the initial wave of three-year renewals, The Athletic opened up a Pittsburgh branch. It seems very likely that many of the three-year renewals switched over to The Athletic to get both quality Pittsburgh level coverage as well as access to national writers as well. Finally, in December 2017, there were published articles that DK was a bad boss who treated his employees poorly. There were many comments online that people were dropping their subscriptions because of that behavior, however, the rate of decline in PGH membership did not seem to accelerate after that controversy.
TL; DR The arrival of the three-year subscription renewals, The Athletic and a bad boss controversy have caused PGH to loss subscribers continuously since The Athletic arrived in Pittsburgh.
What About BSJ?
BSJ’s situation is slightly subtler. BSJ reached 5000 subscriptions faster than PGH and was definitely poised to make a run towards 20,000 subscribers as PGH had done. However, notice in the first graph above that PGH has about 20,000 while the BSJ only has slightly less than 10,000. Why did BSJ not see the growth that PGH did? It turns out that The Athletic arrived in Boston on April 11, 2018 when BSJ had 8000 subscribers, 262 days since it started. Although its growth had started to slow behind the PGH rate, the arrival of The Athletic dramatically affected the growth of BSJ and will most likely be its demise.
In the graph below, the average number of subscribers per day is plotted against the number of days since The Athletic arrived in each town. A negative number of days is before The Athletic, and positive days is after. Notice that before The Athletic, PGH was averaging between 20 and 50 subscribers per day. However, immediately when The Athletic arrived in Pittsburgh, the subscriber growth for PGH because negative, and has been negative every time since then.
To examine BSJ, we need to zoom in on this graph and switch the scale to a logarithmic scale (Narrator: don’t worry, you’ll see why). In this graph, you can see that before The Athletic arrived in Boston, BSJ averaged more than 8 subscribers per day (green line). A few times just before The Athletic arrived, the BSJ had subscriber rates lower than 8. I attribute that to rumors that The Athletic was coming and the fact that this is a dead sports time between the Super Bowl and MLB opening day. However, since The Athletic arrived, BSJ has only averaged more than 8 subscribers per day a few times, which are the Black Friday sale, start of Patriots training camp and start of the Patriots season. Therefore, because BSJ did not have the renewal issues of PGH nor a bad boss controversy (Narrator: at least not publicly), the drop-in subscribers must be attributable to the arrival of the Athletic.
These last two graphs show the distributions of the rate of subscribers for both BSJ and PGH before and after The Athletic arrived. In both cases, the distributions shifted dramatically to the left, which means that the subscriber rate is lower after The Athletic came to town.
The Pittsburgh equivalent to BSJ has been very successful until the arrival of The Athletic. BSJ was not able to reach the same level of success before The Athletic came to town. Given the decrease in subscribers at PGH since The Athletic arrived, it is quite likely that BSJ will see similar decline at the latest when the three-year subscriptions are up for renewal in July 2020, if not earlier. If BSJ cannot generate cash flow between now and then, it will likely fail sooner.
The Wreck of the BostonSportsJournal
When layoff time came, King came straight to Greg,
Sayin’, maybe they’ll pay to read ya
Just eight months on, The Athletic came ‘long, and Pete said
Greg, it’s been good t’know ya
But Bedard tweeted out that he still had no doubt
That his good site and staff weren’t in peril
But within a year, it was abundantly clear
Came the wreck of the BostonSportsJournal
Almost-A-Basketball Fan then uses his well-worn dog-whistle to throw shade on The Players in That League, which is never a Grand look for the Wizard of BSJ. I’ll put the over/under on minutes of a live NBA game Bedard has watched the season at 11.5.
Remember, I read Bedard so you don’t have to. At all.
A source with inside knowledge of the situation tells #BJBSJ that Hyperlocal Area Entreprenuer Greg A. Bedard is contemplating major changes in the structure of the Boston Sports Jourinal.
Bedard is familiar with making drastic moves to improve his vanity project’s viability. After losing hockey writer Joey MacDonald to The Athletic – Boston in 2018, Bedard vacated the position for the remainder of the season. He also pulled Celtics writer Brian Robb off the road in an attempt to control cost. BJBSJ had it first.
The source tells BJBSJ that Bedard is “planning to de-emphasize” coverage of the Bruins and Celtics once their seasons are completed. While it’s too early to say if Robb or newly hired B’s writer Conor Ryan will be kept on staff, you’d have to say their prospects don’t look good. At all.
Maybe there’s hope for Sean McAdam to get reimbursed?
Once again, special thanks to @bucknerslegs for doing the work that even Greg Bedard is too lazy to undertake. Today we focus on the castaways, lost and adrift. Otherwise known as the Wicked Diehard Level subscribers of bostonsportsjournal.com
BSJ: Wicked Diehard with a Vengeance
Now that we’ve taken a look at the subscriber numbers at BSJ, let’s dig into those brave (?) souls who bought a lifetime subscription because they thought it was worth the money (Narrator: it isn’t). A “Wicked Diehard Level” is $299.99 and never expires until you do. With a three year “Diehard Level” subscription costing $74.99, the lifetime subscription would be worth it if BSJ lasts at least 12 years, or the year 2029. Anyone think that’s going to happen?
So, what BSJ subscription level works best for you (Monthly is $4.99/month, annual is $34.99/year)? Let’s examine the total revenue for a subscriber over this hypothetical 20 year window. Besides the obvious answer of not subscribing, if you are interested in 6 months or less of BSJ, the monthly plan is best. If you want just two years, then the annual plan is best. For 3 years to 12 years, the Diehard Level three year subscription is best. For more than 12 years, the Wicked Diehard Plan is best for you. So, how long you think BSJ will be around should help you make your decision on which plan to choose.
However, what’s best for BSJ for their first five years is if you sign up for a lifetime plan. After 5 years, the monthly plan gives the most revenue to BSJ. The lifetime plan gives BSJ the most upfront cash, and only costs revenue after 5 years vs. the monthly plan, after 8 years for the annual plan and after 12 years for the three-year plan.
Who signed up when?
As of February 9, 2019, BSJ had 106 lifetime subscribers, or about $32,000 in one-time revenue. Let’s break these subscriptions down by when and how many.
Initial Week: Anticipation is a great motivator for business. There was a buzz for the BSJ as it promised to be something special and different. As part of this excitement, 42 subscribers signed up for a Wicked Diehard lifetime subscription in the first 7 days. Will they be rewarded for this commitment? Tune in July 2029 to see if they break even. That’s 39.6% of the total subscriptions in only 1.2% of the time BSJ has been in business. Very impressive!
Rest of First Month: Now the word of mouth begins. “Hey, I just got my BSJ Wicked Diehard subscription, don’t be a lose-ah!”. 22 more people bought this argument over the next 22 days. Another 20.75% of subscriptions in another 3.9% of the lifetime. The running total is now 60% of total lifetime subscriptions in the first 29 days.
Second Month: I think at this point the excitement had mostly died out. Only another 10 (9.4%) subscriptions over 28 days. Now 70% of the total subscriptions have been signed up in 10% of the time.
Guerrero – January 2018: Lifetime growth was slow until the Brady-Belichick-Guerrero story came to a head. BSJ seemed to have some inside info, and 8 (7.5%) people over three days committed to a lifetime of Bedard to get the scoop. A one month subscribe/cancel would have sufficed here, but it’s not my money. Running tally: 77% in 10.5% of the time.
First Annual Renewal: July 2018 – time for the annual subscriptions to fish or cut bait. I don’t know how many annual subscriptions there were, but, over a 7 day period at renewal time, 11 (10.4%) people sentenced themselves to life on death row with the BSJ. This means that 0.13% of all subscribers probably converted to a lifetime membership (11 out of 8570). Running tally: 87% in 12% of time
September 2018: Between the Patriots season starting and the Red Sox driving towards a pennant, 3 (2.8%) more brave souls over the course of a week jumped on the BSJ bandwagon. Running total: 90.5% in 13% of time.
All the remaining time: Outside of these 6 events, the Red Sox have won a World Series, the Patriots have been in 2 Super Bowls, winning 1, the Celtics almost made the NBA Finals and the Bruins had a showing in the playoffs. Yet only 10 additional people thought the BSJ coverage worth a lifetime subscription. Amazing! The biggest story for the BSJ was Brady-Belichick-Guerrero. Nothing else.
These 6 events account for 90.5% of all lifetime subscriptions over just 13% of the time. This means that the remaining 10 lifetime memberships have occurred over 492 days, or 87% of the time of BSJ’s existence. That amounts to 1 new subscriber every 50 days. In the next year, that means about 7 to 8 more people will become Wicked Diehards. From earlier, we know that over the lifetime of BSJ, 17.6 subscribers per day have signed up. However, that is heavily weighted by early success. Over the most recent 7 day period (ending February 6, 2019), only 2.67 subscribers have been signing up per day.
In the graphical below, the events discussed above are represented graphically. Basically, tall and skinny is significantly better than short and wide. Think Kevin Garnett vs. Glenn Ordway. Which would you choose?
TL;DR: Live Free or Die Hard
Barring any breaking news, there is no incentive to sign up for a lifetime membership unless you think BSJ will be around for more than 12 years. For single stories you’ve got to read, do a monthly and cancel. BSJ is not adding Wicked Diehard Level subscriptions at the rate needed to provide the cash infusion to deliver the content you want. No Boston sporting events stories in the BSJ since July 2017 have created a buzz worthy of a lifetime commitment. At All.
The Data Behind the Story
In the table below, the first column lists the event that resulted in a substantial number of subscriptions, for example, the first week of business. The second column shows the number of subscriptions with this event, and the third column the number of days over which these subscriptions were added. For example, in the second month, 10 subscriptions were added over 28 days. The fourth column show, on average, how many subscriptions per day were added during this event. This is interesting because it can be used to project how many lifetime subscriptions might be added in the future. We’ll dig into this further down below. The fifth column shows what percent of the 106 subscriptions were added during this event. Finally, the last column shows what percent of time for the existence of BSJ this occurred over. BSJ has been available for 566 days as of February 9, 2019, and these numbers are based on that number.
Lifetime Subscription Breakdown For BSJ
|Event||Subscriptions||Number of Days||Lifetime Subs/day||Percent of Total Subscriptions||Percent of Time|
|Rest of First Month||22||22||1.000||20.8%||3.9%|
|Guerrero story – January 2018||8||3||2.667||7.5%||0.5%|
|First year renewal||11||7||1.571||10.4%||1.2%|
|Remaining 15 Months||10||492||0.020||9.4%||86.9%|
Well the BSJ subscriber numbers are in and after performing thorough due diligence, the Mergers and Acquisitions Department at BJBSJ is …
Having some background in valuation multiples, specifically with media companies, these subscriber numbers are pretty instructive. Bedard has professed a disdain for – and unwillingness to accept – VC funds. “New York money” he dog whistled. And in my estimation – that won’t be a problem for him.
Let’s take the midpoint for subscriber revenue and call it 420k. Ad revenue, given their maximum top end web traffic, and the general lack of sponsor/branding opportunities is likely a rounding error here and would be laughed at if brought to the table as incremental value. BSJ is roughly equated to an old guard media company like the very worthless Boston Globe. Of course their revenues are much smaller, as are their operating costs. This is not a digital media company with scale. The only path to growth is through subscriber acquisition which is challenging given the cost to acquire and the LTV of a subscriber. The ratio of a subscriber cost to LTV is, best case scenario is 1:1 for each dollar spent. And that is being generous.
Given all this, I’d peg them at a .3X multiple or 126K. Maybe The Athletic thinks they need McAdam, BRobb, Price, and Bedard. This would seem unlikely given their current slate of writers. It stands to reason a large percentage of Athletic subscribers are also BSJ subscribers, so it’s not a guarantee that the non-existence of BSJ grows The Athletic’s subscriber base. It seems likely Bedard has costs under control by now or the site would be dead. The numbers are certainly at a rate of survivability, given his cutbacks on travel. The reported pushback on reimbursing travel expenses would seem to underscore this point.
There is no path to glory here. Greg can continue to grind out a living and pretend he loves being his own boss, with all the associated headaches. But make no mistake – the only way he’s making it to Nantucket is if Felger gifts him a week in April and he has to take the storm windows off and stain the deck.
We have speculated on the long term viability of Greg Bedard’s Bostonsportsjournal.com for some time. It’s a difficult marketplace with local print offerings and a pay competitor in the Athletic with a vastly superior product. It’s been obvious if you watch subscriber growth announcements that subscriber growth at Bedard’s site is stagnating. For the first time we have the receipts. Everything below is courtesy of @bucknerslegs, and told in his own words. There’s a lot to digest, but it paints a picture of a business model that is struggling. There are many reasons for that, which BJBSJ will be getting into in the coming weeks.
And with that:
I’ve been tracking the subscriber count at the BostonSportsJournal since shortly after it began. I grab the subscriber count about once a week, and then calculate the average subscribers per day over that week. Now that it is nearing 10,000 subscribers, I thought I’d take look at how the subscriber rate has changed over time. In this first graph, I plotted the subscribers added since the start of the year for 2017, 2018 and 2019. Since 2017 started in the middle of the year, the initial growth was reasonably impressive, adding nearly 7000 subscribers in about six months. In 2018, however, everything started to slow down. Just under 3000 subscribers were added for the full year. And 2019 is not looking good. At all. 36 days into 2019, and only 136 subscribers have signed up. In 2018, there were already 659 new subscribers. Wow. I don’t need to watch film to know that that ain’t impressive.
In this graph, each 1000 subscriber count level is plotted by number of days it took to get there. The 1000, 2000 and 3000 levels were really quick, at less than 10 days for each. It took another 16 days to reach 4000, and an additional 21 days for 5000. The 6000 level took 69 (Gronk!) days. The BSJ caught a break with both Christmas gifts and the 2018 Guerrero news boosting to 7000 in only 50 days. However, it was soon back to the grind with 94 days to 8000, 162 days to 9000 and a projected 204 days to reach 10000. That would be April 11. However, the drive to 10k was boosted tremendously by the Black Friday sale, so it may take longer at the current normal rate.
One of my favorite graphs is shown below. This graph shows the cumulative subscribers per day, as well as the weekly average subscribers per day. Note that in 2017, BSJ was averaging about 10 subscribers per day. Throughout 2018, that average dropped to just under 5 per day. Since September 2018, the average subscribers per day has been well below 5. The spikes in subscriber base are noted. Amazingly, no significant bumps in rate of subscribers for any of the Super Bowls or World Series. There have been three championship events in Boston in the last three years, and BSJ did not manage to capitalize on any of them directly. There was a bigger bump from the Guerrero rumor-mongering than the actual Super Bowl coverage. WOW!
And, as a side note, I projected best and worst case subscriber only revenue per year for the current subscriber base. Best case scenario, everyone pays monthly. Worst case scenario, everyone signed up for a three year membership. Best case revenue stands at $ $ 590,537.45. Worst case is $ $ 252,692.36. Reality is probably somewhere in between. This assumes that all subscribers are paid and active. There is some question if subscriber numbers include cancellations. Also, military discounts are given and complimentary subscriptions are rumored, which would lower revenue. Ad revenue is not included.
If there’s more energy than usual coming from the Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard this week, it’s easy to understand why. Curiously, it’s not because he’s approaching #BSJ10K with the runaway momentum of a Super Bowl drive led by Jared Goff:
It’s not because he’s excited about starting research for the NFL Draft:
Almost-A-Coach Greg was right: the draft isn’t his beat. Since he’s always looking to humbly serve his subscribers, Bedard embarked on Nationwide Search to find a draft expert, sparing all expense.
Anytime you can lock up a Mashpee School teacher and pass him off your draft expert, you gotta do it. Vetting and hiring Mike Loyko took less time than Cosmo Kramer’s Cafe Latte settlement negotiations. The cap-friendly Loyko plugged away at BSJ for several months, churning out forgettable, lukewarm takez until shockingly, flaws were found in Almost-An-HR Rep Bedard’s hiring practices.
Don’t worry, everyone: Almost-A-Damage Control Expert was going to control the message:
The World Series ended 99 days ago. What has Bedard done since then? He’s proven to be adept pointing the finger at others and making himself the victim:
Bedard has to be under consideration for NAACP Man of the Year for the levels of humility and remorse demonstrated after the Loyko revelations.
It’s not easy as one would think to investigate a racist working under your banner. He sent an email to Twitter support, caller – what else do you want him to do?
Hell, I’m just an anonymous Twitter user – one he spent more time and resources (sending multiple emails, dozens of tweets, and having colleagues report to Twitter) getting the @AlmostACoach parody account suspended than he did looking into a racist homophobe in his employ.
All this because Almost-A-Coach Bedard abhors anonymity.
Wait, now hearing that’s wrong – anonymous sources are wrong, unless he can use them to pimp clickbait for his website, like when trampolining off the bullshit Seth Wickersham story about discord in Foxboro last summer. And Lord knows, the New England fell apart in the 2018 season due to offseason dramatics:
Tomorrow is #LoyKKKoGate Day 100. If you’re not blocked – and yes, I am – why not take to your Anonymous Twitter accounts and ask Bedard where his investigation stands? I’m going to take a wild guess that the “A” in “@GregABedard doesn’t stand for accountability.