Football Guys Numbers’ are No Fantasy

Over the last two weeks we have taken a deep dive into podcasts that have successfully gone premium, including True Crime Obsessed and Jim Harold’s Paranormal. This week we are looking at a content business outside of podcasting, Football Guys, founded by Joe Bryant and David Dodds.

Football Guys is the pre-eminent fantasy football content site. If you are a fantasy football player and you’ve never heard of it then that is only because all your league buddies are keeping it a secret from you. Why? Because Football Guys helps their members win. Period. Plus, the content is super fun and engaging.

Joe and David actually started Football Guys way back in 2000. At the time if you could get fantasy football content it was in a magazine, which is what they initially did as well as the website. However, they quickly came to realize that the web was a much better way to reach people for dynamic content like fantasy football news and statistics.

The first two years of Football Guys it was completely free but the intention was always to go paid. After those two years they amassed 30,000 subscribers. However, their big unknown was when they went paid how many would convert? They guess maybe 5%, or maybe as high as 10% but when they finally did it they were blown away by their conversion. Fully 50% of their free subscribers converted to paid! In podcasting a premium tier is considered successful if it converts 2% of listeners. The best in the business, True Crime Obsessed, converts 8%. So, a 50% conversion is truly extraordinary.

At the time Football Guys went premium the dominant culture around the web was it should be free. However, Joe and David were never comfortable with relying on advertising. They felt if someone really valued something then they would pay for it. More importantly they wanted their revenues to be dependent on how well they did their job, which was to help their subscribers win their fantasy leagues.

Today Football Guys conversion metrics from free to paid have declined to around a very robust 15%. They have around 500,000 free and 75-80,000 paying subscribers. To achieve that they have quite a novel conversion flow. The site really kicks off with the NFL draft in April when everything is free. It stays free until June when players are starting to think about their fantasy football drafts. That is when the pay wall goes up. Subscribers pay between $40 and $60 per annum and for that they get a lot of benefits:

  • All their editorial content including news, strategy guides etc
  • Weekly player projections
  • Waiver wire picks
  • Tools – their proprietary draft and league dominators

Football Guys has grown steadily for the last 17 years despite having done very little SEO and minimal paid marketing. In addition, they have the opposite of virality. When they have a player who loves their product, the last thing they want to do is tell their friends (and competitors)! The team have focused most on social media and investing in their community.

On social media, they are very active on Twitter and have an active Facebook group. However, it is the way they engage their audience that I think is really interesting. Every day Football Guys emails its subscribers (all 80,000 of them). And then they get replies, often well over 100. Anything from I can’t log into my account to questions of substance (I drafted Andrew Luck, what do I do now?). The team then answers every one of those emails. Joe’s view is that while many of the tools have changed the principles of human engagement haven’t and this has been key to their success.

Another key community tool for them has been their message boards. They have seen some of their traffic drop as the community has moved to Twitter and Facebook but in the early days they were very important in growing community. They take a zero tolerance approach to managing the forums and Facebook group, which has cost them users but has resulted in a very supportive and engaged community. They have now built up an active Facebook group but they do remain wary that its Facebook’s sandbox, not theirs.

Joe and David have now built an impressive business with around 95% of their revenues coming from subscriptions. They’ve built content that users’ value enough to pay for but more importantly they’ve built an incredibly loyal community. Analyzing Football Guys through the PREMIUM model:

  • Patronage – Subscribers to Football Guys definitely want the data and analysis. However, there are lots of other places you can get that, many of which are free. What Joe and David have done is earn their trust but also injected their personality into Football Guys. If you are a subscriber to Football Guys you definitely feel you get to know Joe and David.
  • Recognition – On the community forums and Facebook they don’t currently distinguish between free and paid subscribers. They are now working to fix that.
  • Exclusive content – Football Guys have a clever time-based model of keeping content free until June and then going exclusive.
  • Membership of a community – This is something subscribers really value. Some people have been friends on the site for over 15 years.
  • Insider access – The founders remain very responsive to their subscribers and reply to 100s of emails per day.
  • Uninterrupted by ads – Football Guys keep advertising on the site light and only take ads from products and services that they endorse.
  • Means of payment – They run payments through their site

Many aspiring podcasters dream of being able to build their podcast into a business and their full-time job. Joe and David have done that. And the techniques that they used are just as applicable to podcasts as they are for them.