Chris Dufresne hopes this comparison to Starbucks carries over to his new college football website.
“You see people standing in line in Starbucks every day ready to pay $5 for whatever coffee they want,” Dufresne said. “Why do they do it? The only reason is because they are addicted to caffeine. Well, in a weird sort of way, I think there is an addiction to college football. Every July, I used to get emails saying, ‘I can’t wait for the season to start.’ ‘I need my fix now.’”
Yes, but will college football fans be addicted enough to pay for Dufresne’s new site? He and his partners will find out soon enough.
In July, Dufresne, the former long-time college football writer for the Los Angeles Times, teamed with Mark Blaudschun, formerly of The Boston Globe, and Herb Gould, formerly of the Chicago Sun-Times, to launch TMGCollegesports.com.
The trio is the latest example of sportswriters trying to remain relevant and viable in their post-newspaper careers. Together, they have more than 100 years of experience in press boxes throughout the country and have some of the deepest connections among reporters covering college football.
Their perspectives, though, aren’t free. TMG College Sports is charging readers a $19.95 annual fee.
The genesis for the site came after Dufresne took a buyout from the Times last December. However, at 58, he wasn’t ready to retire, and he still loved writing about college football.
“College football probably is the only thing I’m attached to as a writer,” Dufresne said. “I love it because it is all interconnected with every aspect of society and life. Everyone went to a school somewhere. There’s nothing else like it.”
Blaudschun and Gould feel the same way, and were still writing about college football after leaving their respective papers. Blaudschun’s “A Jersey Guy” website had more than 1 million pageviews last year, and Gould has a strong following in the Midwest.
Meanwhile, Dufresne is known by “Rankman” among his loyal college football readers at the Times. With that kind of reader base, they figured it made sense for them to combine forces in one website.
Dufresne, though, was adamant about one thing: He wasn’t going to do it for free.
“Maybe I’m being pig-headed to think we are offering anything different, but if I’m going to do this, I’m not going to do it for nothing,” Dufresne said.
The next step was figuring out the revenue model. They knew the advertising route wasn’t going to work. It's very hard for an independent site with three writers to sustain itself that way.
So, they decided to go with subscriptions. Dufresne asked people how much they would pay for a college football site. After getting some feedback, they settled on $19.95 per year.
“It’s like a nickel a day,” Dufresne said.
That isn’t much in that context, but people are reluctant to pay for anything these days, especially when there's so much free content available.
Dufresne, though, is confident there's sufficient interest. They offered a free preview when the site launched on July 19. He reports TMG College Sports has had 67,000 pageviews and 32,500 unique visitors through late August.
Currently, the site has 250 paid subscribers. Dufresne likened the current pace to “a herd of cattle going through the door one at a time.”
“I told the guys don’t be surprised if there’s a trickle,” Dufresne said. “People don’t really start getting into it until the season starts.”
Dufresne admits he isn’t sure if $19.95 is the right price. He also said the site might do more free previews during the season in an attempt to lure more paid subscribers.
However, the bottom line is that the bottom line doesn’t have to be huge for Dufresne, Blaudschun and Gould. At this stage in their lives, they aren’t dependent on a big paycheck from TMG College Sports, Dufresne said.
They just want to make enough to cover travel expenses to games and have something leftover to make the venture worthwhile.
“We have the luxury of time here to build this thing,” Dufresne said. “In no way did I think going into this website was (going to be a financial boon). This still is about doing it because we love it.”