Nats Insider Gets Readers to Subsidize Spring Training

Getting people to pay directly for the content they read is a concept so novel, it actually seems to be working. Well, in a few cases, at least. ↵

↵We talked several weeks ago with C. Trent Rosencrans of CNATI.com, who hoped to raise $4,000 from user-generated donations to cover the Cincinnati Reds during Spring Training. To date, CNATI has raised $5696.33 – or 142% of what they were trying to raise – through 175 contributors, which is an average of just over $32.50 per donation. That's pretty awesome. ↵

↵

↵The drive has been such a success for CNATI that other people are using the idea for their trips to Spring Training. Mark Zuckerman was the Washington Nationals beat writer for The Washington Times before the publication unceremoniously dumped their entire sports section at the end of the year, leaving a host of solid, long-time, sports reporters out in the cold. Zuckerman is one of the few who has decided to continue covering his beat, on his own, and created the blog Nats Insider.  ↵

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↵⇥You've all made it clear you want comprehensive coverage of the Nats, the kind that's hard to find elsewhere on the web. You don't just want another run-of-the mill blog that riffs off other media outlets' reports. You want a site that covers it all from the frontline, from someone who has access to every player and team official, and from someone who can provide the kind of first-hand accounts afforded only to a select few members of the media. ↵⇥

↵⇥In other words, you want a site that covers spring training in its entirety. ↵⇥

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↵Zuckerman has a list of what different donation amounts will get you: $20 will get you an exclusive daily audio file of manager Jim Riggleman's media session, $40 will get manager and player audio, while $60 gets you three starts at second base…or the ability to send in questions he'll pose to players during Spring Training. One of those. ↵

↵Best I can tell, Zuckerman started his site about a week ago and posted his intention to go to Spring Training on Monday morning. Just 16 hours later – is that possible? – Zuckerman raised more than $6010 for his trip, collecting 120% of what he was looking to raise and bringing in more than $37 per contributor. That's a lot of people at second base. ↵

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↵Keep in mind, with both of the examples above, the money raised is barely enough to get through Spring Training and will just be used for lodging, transportation and food during the trip and not going into the pockets of each writer to, you know, pay rent or utilities or take care of their families. So if you still want to donate, they'll be happy to take the money. ↵

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↵User-generated donations seem to work for specific projects like this (USS Mariner has done drives in the past to pay for server upgrades or even pay college tuition bills) but can the business model be expanded to cover an entire season? Could enough money be raised for independent media outlets – or heck, even fan blogs – through donation boxes on a website for it to survive on reader subsidization alone? Would a reader who donated $50 for Spring Training coverage be willing to donate $300 for the season? Or would 1,000 Nats (or Reds) fans be willing to pay $100 each for the season? What about getting 2,000 readers to pony up $50 for the year? This is the kind of thing sportswriters never had to worry about, but there's not a lot of choice now. ↵

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↵The model of giving away some information for free with more information going to subscribers works all over the internet – Baseball Prospectus, for a sport-specific example, has always survived this way. At some point, corporate sponsorship is always the more sustainable option, but it will be interesting to see if the model can be expanded and independent media, on a team-specific, local level, can succeed on the backs of its readers. Besides, in these two cases, it's not like you can just go buy the paper anymore. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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