Last month, the Kansas City Star announced Sports Pass, a digital sports-content subscription service. Sports Pass is the ticket to everything sports-related on Kansascity.com. For $30 a year — just $2.50 a month — subscribers will have unlimited digital access to every sports story The Star publishes, with no limits.
We caught up with Jeff Rosen, Assistant Managing Editor/Sports, to talk about Sports Pass in this edition of Alliance 5 Answers.
Where did the idea originate?
Our parent company, McClatchy, had thought about trying a subscription built around sports content for some time. We were actually the second in our chain to go live – the Miami Herald launched its own sports-specific digital subscription a couple weeks ahead of us. We saw the traction they got and decided to launch our own version here in Kansas City. The inception of The Athletic in the last year or so – targeted sports coverage for a set subscription price – really opened our minds to the notion that there could be some sustainability here.
How does the subscription work?
What the subscription specific to sports does is vaporize the paywall surrounding our sports content at Kansascity.com. Whereas before, you could read five stories on our site per month, you can now pay about 8 cents per day – $30 per year – to read it all. The subscriber to this digital product maybe doesn’t favor other coverage The Star produces or has a limited amount of money to spend on the purchase of coverage. For that person, a sports-only digital subscription is just the ticket. Do we want all of those people to then notice the other great coverage that our colleagues outside of sports are producing, and eventually opt for The Star‘s full digital subscription package? Of course we do. But we realize that not everyone is going to do that. You want just the sports content? That fine, too.
What has reader response been like to the announcement?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Readers have shared with us their various reasons for opting in, and one thing that we hear a lot is that consumers today, especially consumers of entertainment and media, want to be able to purchase “a la carte.” They don’t need a giant cable package or satellite contract offering a ton of channels they’ll never watch; they want Netflix for movies and some series; Hulu for The Handmaid’s Tale; and so on. The same goes for their choices in news media: they’ll get some coverage from site X; find and read reddits that interest them; and they’ll take their Kansas City Chiefs, Royals and other sports coverage that we offer at the low price point we’ve presented, knowing that they’re getting an excellent return on their investment – no one covers the KC sports scene as thoroughly as we do.
How have staffers reacted to the change?
I don’t think the subscription has changed the way our reporters and columnists work or produce the content they create, but they’re definitely energized by the thought that we could actually try something new – to borrow from sports, they appreciate playing offense for a change, having a new plan of attack, as opposed to playing defense. They work hard, produce incredible stories and visual journalism, and the public is responding to our message that these things don’t come cheap. It costs money to do journalism at the highest level, and we’re finding that our savvy readership is willing to pay to support it.
What are your goals for the first year of Sports Pass?
Obviously, the primary goal is to continue to build our subscriber base. Initial response was exciting: We did brisk business as Sports Pass was rolled out, and our top brand personalities – our journalists – shared links for signing up via their various social media accounts. We’d like to see that organic growth continue – you like Sports Pass, so you tell your friends about it and they sign up, too. We’re not 100 percent certain that this is the new model for sports journalism, but it’s certainly proven to be worth a shot right now. Will this model usurp all others? Will it morph into something new? Not sure. But we know that the old news-organization model of print subscriptions and circulation, with advertising paying most of the freight for our work, is no longer intact. It’s fading out. And right now, the targeted-subscription model appears promising enough to pursue. So that’s what we’re doing.
Kirsten is the Social Media and Blog Editor at the News Media Alliance.