Yahoo Sports thinks it has the tools necessary to start its own league of digital subscription products. It plans to build them team by team, starting with the New York Mets.
On Wednesday, Feb. 20, the sports publisher will announce a paid, ad-free subscription site and app called Queens Baseball Club. Developed with the New York Mets, Queens Baseball Club members will get access to exclusive content including interviews with front office executives, as well as a host of community features such as message boards and chat tools. Over time it intends to add an experiential dimension, which may involve access to players, coaches and team alumni, according to Kyle McDoniel, who heads up Yahoo Sports’ direct to consumer products.
A number of key product details remain up in the air. For one, the parties have yet to settle on a price. Yahoo Sports intend to experiment with different price points and promotions throughout the year, though executives expect to land on a price point of around $5 per month, McDoniel said.
The product still needs to finish staffing up, too. McDoniel said Queens Baseball Club plans to hire three full-time reporters, plus additional contributors, to generate content, as well as multiple community managers to encourage and moderate conversation.
Several details of Yahoo’s business arrangement with the Mets remain unclear. Yahoo declined to offer details about how Yahoo was being compensated, or whether Yahoo or the Mets would own the customer relationship.
While the Mets are the first team to hop on board, Yahoo Sports feels it can replicate this product with other MLB teams, as well as across the major North American sports. It is busy negotiating deals with “several” franchises across multiple different sports leagues, according to Yahoo Sports gm Geoff Reiss. Yahoo expects to launch at least a dozen similar products for different sports franchises over the course of 2019.
And while Yahoo will own both the product and the content, Reiss said that the Mets have agreed to “enthusiastically” promote Queens Baseball Club across its channels, including promotions at Citi Field, the Mets home field; on SNY, the regional sports network that broadcasts Mets games; and through paid marketing campaigns.
Queens Baseball Club is not the only subscription-focused product focused on the Mets. The Athletic, which has raced out to a big lead in the hunt for sports fans willing to pay for coverage of their teams, celebrated its first full year covering the New York market in February. The site claims a subscription renewal rate of 90 percent.
But the Athletic, along with its numerous, smaller competitors, do not have business partnerships with any of the teams they cover. That could ultimately provide Yahoo with some advantages, though it puts Queens Baseball Club on the border of ethically murky territory.
“It would be short-sighted for teams to define their strategy here based on advancing the positive storyline,” said Eric Herd, the president and CEO of digital sports content consultancy The Post Game. “Your most passionate fan can sniff out inauthentic content a mile away.”
Yahoo Sports has offered different consumer products to its audience for years. In addition to its popular fantasy games, it has operated Rivals.com, a network of subscription communities focused on college sports, since 2007. Its sister vertical Yahoo Finance is reportedly launching a premium product in the first quarter of this year.
And as Yahoo rolls a version of this product out to more fanbases in more markets, Herd added, Yahoo’s willingness to change its offering will play a key role in its success. “Its success will depend on how adaptable they are,” he said. “They need to read the market.”
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