The 2017 Pirates season ended this past Sunday, and we started our recaps this week, focusing primarily on payroll. That’s an unavoidable topic in this city, in part because every Pirates’ discussion eventually revolves around payroll.
I know that can get annoying, and we try to avoid making every single discussion about payroll for that reason. But to totally ignore the reality of the payroll situation, especially when setting up a full offseason of discussion, would be to avoid the reality of this offseason.
Next week we will be starting with our season recaps. Those articles will take us through the end of October, around the point when the MLB playoffs will end, and the offseason will begin.
We don’t stop when the season stops. Right now we’ve got a schedule lined up with at least four stories planned out on almost every day of the offseason, leading up to October 27th. We will continue to have stories every day of the offseason, often multiple per day, beyond that date.
Every year we see a trend where monthly subscribers cancel their subscriptions at the end of the regular season, then re-join around Spring Training. This year we’ve seen a more disturbing trend in reaction to the Pirates losing. We’re not only seeing the normal monthly subscribers cancelling at the end of the season, but we’re seeing annual subscribers cancelling. I hear a few times a week from people who say they’re done with this team right now, or that they’re taking a break from the Pirates.
The weird thing about this is that I’ve covered this team since 2009. The site grew a tremendous amount from 2009-2012, enough to make this a full-time job for me, with the ability to pay other writers. But the feeling among Pirates fans right now seems worse than it was during those losing years. That shows up in the attendance for the Pirates as well, with this year being lower than any year dating back to 2011.
There have been challenges every step of the way with this site. How can I make it a full-time job? How can I keep it around with ad rates declining? The answer to the first one was hard work, daily articles, and the Prospect Guide. The answer to the second one was a subscription site.
But now might be the site’s biggest challenge of all. I’ve run this site when it was free and the team was losing. I’ve never run it as a subscription site with the team losing.
No one else has done this either. This isn’t a newspaper where they start focusing on the Steelers and Penguins in late July if the Pirates are losing. This is a niche subscription site about a baseball team and their entire system. When interest in that team is at an all-time low, there is no other place to turn.
The challenge now is literally finding a way to stay in business covering a losing team as a niche site. These days I’m honestly wondering if the site will make it beyond the 2018 season if the Pirates have another losing year. We can’t take the amount of cancellations that we saw in the final two months of the 2017 season, continuing throughout 2018.
We’re still practicing the core value that has always fueled this site — hard work and updates on every part of the system. But that hasn’t been enough to counter the total disgust that people seem to have for this team now, where they won’t even spend money on anything that relates to the Pirates, even if that money doesn’t go to the Pirates. It doesn’t really matter how hard we work, as it seems our ups and downs are tied to how the team does.
I know the Pirates will eventually win again, whether it’s 2018 or beyond. And I know that people will come back to the site to get the news they can’t get anywhere else when that happens.
What I don’t know is whether the site can survive waiting for the next time the Pirates have a good season. If you like our content, and like the amount of coverage we provide, but you will only follow if the Pirates are good, then there’s a chance we might not be around for you the next time the Pirates are winners.
You can help us out in many ways. The biggest way would be staying on as a subscriber if you like our coverage. Or signing up if you haven’t already.
We also offer gift subscriptions where you can purchase a subscription for your friends and family.
There’s the Pay It Forward program, where you can buy a subscription for teachers or students. We will be adding more professions to this program soon.
And of course we have the 2018 Prospect Guide up for pre-sales right now, with a limited quantity of paperback books, and an eBook that will have two updates during the offseason.
We’re also looking into adding sponsors on the site via direct sales (rather than ad networks with intrusive ads). So if you know anyone, or if you own a business yourself, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This will be a big test to see if a niche subscription site like this can survive while covering a losing team. The site has always been fueled by your support, and that support is more important than ever right now.
We’ve got a few columns and recaps through the weekend. Next week we will begin our minor league recaps, along with our position recaps. The minor league recaps will look at the top ten prospects with each team, along with a report on each of those players. The position recaps will look at the big league club this past year, along with a look at the future to see what prospects can help in the short-term and long-term.
We’ll be starting with Center Field/Andrew McCutchen on Monday, and the GCL Pirates on Tuesday. I will also have a column to go with each of the recaps.
The Arizona Fall League starts on Tuesday, so look for John Dreker’s preview on Monday, followed by his daily game reports. The winter leagues will begin later in the week, and John will have a winter preview, along with a daily winter league report throughout the offseason.