In some ways, starting a college football-related website is easy. Anyone can purchase a web domain, or set up a free blog, and begin writing about the sport. There are unlimited topics to cover, and it’s possible for any site to find a niche in the college football community – especially if it contains original, high quality content.
However, in other ways, starting a site from scratch is quite difficult. It’s especially challenging when attempting to build a successful website. Or, at the very least, to build a new site that isn’t a financial burden for its owners.
It’s also important to start off on the right foot. In addition to providing value through content, a new site should be visually appealing and user friendly. If not, readers aren’t likely to come back. Of course, a critical consideration is how to attract those readers in the first place.
As we prepared to launch CFB Winning Edge, we thought long and hard about what sort of site we would be. Would we follow the traditional free-content of model, hoping to provide proof of concept, build readership, and in turn, build a brand through word of mouth?
Unfortunately, in order to pay salaries for content creators, or simply to pay for things like website design and hosting, sites that provide free content are often forced to sell advertising, such as banner ads, pop-ups and sponsored content. And, in order to attract more eyeballs and keep advertisers happy, sites often find themselves on a slippery slope, potentially relying on clickbait-y headlines, news aggregation or other less-than-ideal tactics.
Simply put, the free-content model is failing. In addition to aggravating many readers who despise incessant advertising, the ad dollars themselves are drying up. James Mirtle laid it out very well when he answered “Why The Athletic has a paywall:”
“Journalists are not losing their jobs because they are bad at what they do. The No. 1 killer of newspapers and websites – and radio and television appear to be next – is ad rates, in print and online. As Facebook and Google corner the ad market, and companies increasingly turn to social avenues to promote themselves, ad rates are dropping, often at exceptional rates.”
We aren’t The Athletic. At least, not yet. But The Athletic, as well as outlets like ESPN Insider, 247Sports and Phil Steele Plus have proven readers are willing to pay for valuable content. Other out-of-the-box thinkers, such as the FanGraphs baseball podcast Effectively Wild, and Dave Bartoo of CFB Matrix, have shown consumers are willing to support their efforts on Patreon.
With that in mind, we made the decision for CFB Winning Edge to be a private website and newsletter available only to our Patreon supporters. Yes, we may offer snippets of information on social media, and we may offer occasional free content online, but the vast majority of our material will only be available through our password-protected website.
By going private, we have the freedom to stay completely ad-free. We can afford to stay clear of hot takes, and don’t need to hunt for clicks. We will not need to aggregate breaking news from professional journalists or other media outlets. Instead, we will focus on black-and-white college football analysis through analytics and film study.
As of July 31, 2018, CFBWinningEdge.com is a private, password-protected website. Today, our supporters have access to our player ratings database in our FBS team profiles. Soon, we will release a series of team, coach, player and position/unit rankings. We will update our team profiles often in the preseason, and weekly throughout the 2018 college football season. There will also be a steady stream of new, original and high quality content available on a daily basis all year, through the end of the College Football Playoff, beyond National Signing Day, into spring practice 2019 and beyond. We will also make our data sets (in downloadable Excel files) available for our premium Patreon supporters interested in sifting through the wealth of information we’ve gathered.
With your support, we will be able to build CFBWinningEdge.com - both literally and figuratively. We will be able to cover the monthly maintenance costs of the site, hire web designers and developers capable of enhancing user friendliness, and hire full-time staff to help create the most accurate player ratings, team rankings, coaching analysis, preseason projections and weekly game predictions available.
Our goal is to be stronger than Steele, better than Bill, and to create the best college football analytics and film study-related content available on the market. But to accomplish our goals, we need your support.
Nicholas Ian Allen, @NicholasIAllen