My dog is currently wearing the Cone Of Shame. She had a cyst removed, and dogs don't understand "don't scratch that scar", so she has to wear the cone until the scar heals. It's a rather helpless situation. She hates it, and I can't explain to her why she's wearing it, so she just stares at me in disgust while I try to reassure her that this is for her own good. Except she doesn't understand English.
That's more or less my feeling the last six months. I hate this, and I don't understand.
I mean, I understand. There's a global pandemic, and said pandemic meant the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament in March all the way through the Illini football games that aren't happening right now. I can accept it. (Honestly, I think my dog can as well.)
But in the realm of general life fairness, I was still at "whyyyy". I left my job on February 14th and the whole world fell apart on March 12th, the day I was supposed to start a four-day Illini basketball binge in Indianapolis. I moved to Champaign three weeks later, was going to bike to some press conferences just because I can, and suddenly there wasn't anything to do. (There was even talk of the Big Ten football season being played in the winter in domes with Illini games happening in, wait for it... St. Louis.)
So I more or less walked around with the expression my dog has on her face right now: "This is so unfair." It's like getting your pilot's license and then all airplanes are grounded for seven months. My life builds up to this one moment and then... crickets.
That changed yesterday with two announcements: Big Ten football returns on October 24th and NCAA Basketball can begin on November 25th. Suddenly it's 38 days until Peters-to-Bhebhe and 70 days until Ayo-to-Kofi.
Which means it's time to launch.
What This Won't Be
I should start with what this isn't. At the end of this I'm going to ask you to support me in this endeavor - support all of us - and you need to know what this won't be before I tell you what it will be.
For starters, it's not a new site. Look around. Nothing is different. It's the same site with the same format. Many have thought that "IlliniBoard 2.0" would be some big design change or something. That's not it. The difference, as you'll learn as you click around, is that subscriptions are back. And they're different. But we'll get to that in a bit.
The main thing that this won't be: this won't be a return to the Scout days of IlliniBoard. When the IB was part of the Scout network it operated, like all of those sites do, as a recruiting-based subscription. That's the model in college athletics. People will subscribe if you can tell them which players are considering Illinois and why. In the nearly 12 years that I've been doing this, I've received that advice countless times. "Do recruiting stuff. That will drive subscriptions." That's true, but this will not be that.
It's not that I won't be covering recruiting. And it's not that, by living in Champaign now, I won't have information for you. I'm just saying that I'm not going to call recruits and write "Smith has Illini in his top-3" articles. Why not? Because I am a fan. And fans should never, ever, freaking EVER contact recruits.
There's some Rivals guy for, I don't know, Wake Forest who is calling some basketball recruit right now and slyly trying to push him towards Wake and just typing this drives me nuts. And don't get me started on independent fan sites (such as my own) with fanalysts (such as myself) who contact recruits. I'd probably call 911 if it ever happened in front of me and then explain to the police for 45 minutes that yes, I believe it's a crime. Coaches are to recruit the players, not fanalysts.
Most Rivals and 247 sites understand this. And they do a great job of reporting on where the recruits are leaning. And I'll leave that to them. Why? Because I "we" when I talk about the Illini, and I'm not going to change that. I graduated from here, I'm a fan, and that's how I will forever view the team. My team.
When I left my job, I had a few people say "why not try to write for The Athletic?" and such, and the big stumbling block there is the "we". I don't say "Illinois came back in the second half", I say "we came back in the second half". Maybe I could make the transition and cover the team with zero emotion, but I'm pretty sure everyone would stop reading. If you've stuck around, you probably like the emotion.
Which means I'm attempting to do the very-difficult here. I'm not going to tease recruiting stories (there goes 60% of my potential subscribers) and I'm not going to change my "we" (there goes 90% of potential employment opportunities). I'm going to ask you - and I hope I don't sound too millennial here (I was born in 1972 I swear) - I'm asking that you support my content.
Here's what this will be. Everything you've read over the past 12 years, but a lot more of it. Time was the big barrier for 12 years - I had a job, and a family, and cross country meets and band concerts and a dozen other things I had to do every day. Our youngest just turned 25 a few weeks ago (how old am I?), so those days are long gone.
And the "job" thing is gone now as well. I had planned to launch all of this about a month after I quit my job (actually, the plan was March 16th, four days after March 12th), and then sports went away and I didn't feel right charging you for "Illini Bracket - 6th-best Illini basketball team vs. 11th-best Illini basketball team" posts. I found other things to do with my time (some temporary sources of income) and those got me from March 12th to today. Today is when I ask for your support, Bartles & Jaymes-style (see, I told you I was old).
What content am I offering? Well, the general plan is this:
- All of the same stuff you've been reading over the years, from Stream Of Consciousness posts the night before a football game to Back-And-Forth posts with Tyler after a basketball game and everything in between.
- There will also be other writers, just as there have been the last six years. The majority of the articles will be mine, but you'll also get fanalysis from Tyler, Craig, Nate, Ben, and others. Might even get Brumby to write about basketball again.
- I'll be bringing back some of the posts I had to stop doing because I just couldn't find the time, like Check The Tape posts after a football game.
- Pretty much, anything that can be analyzed will be analyzed here. I don't really do news - I don't write "Brody Wisecarver picks Illinois" posts, I write "Brody Wisecarver picked Illinois and here's me analyzing it for four hours" posts - and that won't change. The same is true of all our writers.
- I'm also bringing the podcast back starting next week. There will be a ton of audio content (and hopefully that some day becomes its own revenue stream so that the burden here isn't completely on the subscribers).
- Speaking of other revenue streams, the IlliniBoard Store opens for business in about a month. More on that in a bit.
There are other things I'm adding, but that's probably better described when I tell you how all of this is going to work.
If you don't know the history here, a quick history. I'll try to do it in one paragraph.
I started the blog in late 2008/early 2009. In late 2011/early 2012 I got my first press pass, and starting with the 2013 season I started covering games from the pressbox/press row. It got really expensive (paying for hotel rooms to support my "hobby") so I joined Brumby at IlliniBoard and we put together a subscription model. At the time it was 10 posts per month and to read the 11th post you needed a subscription ($24 per year) to read more. That eventually reduced to five posts and that model helped me pay my travel expenses over those six years.
There you go. One paragraph.
The model was, as I referred to it, an "intentionally leaky paywall". Having 10 posts before you needed to subscribe to see the 11th was silly - people with multiple devices could read 30 or 40 posts before having to pay - but the point wasn't "gonna make some money here". The point was making sure my hobby didn't cost me anything while not, in any way, restricting someone who was just discovering our site. That last part is important.
We left it leaky for that reason. We didn't want to restrict people. We simply asked the die-hards (and from the bottom of my heart, thank you, die-hards) to subscribe for access to everything while leaving it as open as possible so that other people could discover our writing.
Today we move to a new phase. It will be more restrictive. There will be only two free posts per month (or, if you have three devices, six), and after that you will need a subscription. And there are now two different subscriptions. I'll get to that in a bit after a few notes on this last year.
Last fall we were notified that the service we used for our subscriptions - something called TinyPass Go - was closing down the "Go" service ("go" is apparently internet for "services for all the small little sites that don't make us any money"). At the time, Brumby and I began to discuss how we could overhaul the subscriptions. He decided he would build it out himself.
It wasn't ready in January, and the pressure of a changeover on New Years Day was just too much, so we put it off by a month. By February 1 my wife had accepted the job here and we knew we were moving to Champaign, so we put it off in anticipation of launching a whole new pay structure in March. Then Covid hit.
Which means that I'm now 8.5 months into this "writing for free" phase. Many of you have asked me to put up the tip jar during this phase, and I appreciate that, but I knew this big ask was coming - "I'd like for you to subscribe and support me in doing this full time" - so I just waited until now.
One of the reasons that's a good thing: when we did the changeover and got the data from TinyPass (we needed to know each active subscriber so we could activate their subscription on the new service), that data didn't come with renewal dates. We knew when they first subscribed, but if someone subscribed in August of 2017 and then renewed in September of 2018 and November of 2019, the only date we had was August 19, 2017. So we wouldn't know how long to extend their new subscription on the new service.
This... was not fun information to learn. For our entire subscriber base - the ones we were going to individually change over to the new service and match their subscription expiration date - we had no idea what date that should be. A nightmare. Would was have to... do an entire free year?
Covid kind of sorted that out for us. It's now September 17th, and there haven't been any subscription options since December, so we're probably down to maybe 25% of the existing subscribers who would still have an active subscription had we not changed over.
And the percentage is probably smaller than that. Because we launched in August of 2013, the core subscribers (I'm talking to you, die-hards) all renew that time of year. Football season is approaching, your subscription runs out, you renew, and off we go with a new season. Tracking the money that came in, almost half arrived between August 1 and September 15th. It was Renewal Season.
And since it's now September 17th, the majority of you die-hards have now passed your renewal date and I have no problem (below) asking you to begin a new subscription. For the rest of you, we still want to honor the subscription you paid for last October, November, and December, so here's how we'll do that.
Go search your email for an email from TinyPass (it might have come from Piano Software). When you find that email, if your subscription date is between now and December 31st, forward it to me (email@example.com). I'll then set you up with a temporary subscription until that date. That will come with an auto-renew, but you can still cancel before that happens.
Hmm, I should probably talk about that. We're moving to auto-renew. This is me giving up a seven-year fight.
I refused auto-renew (I cannot tell you how many people told me "if you don't have auto-renew you'll lose so much business") because I didn't want to be Comcast. I didn't know how easy it would be to cancel with TinyPass, and I didn't want some scenario where TinyPass was making you jump through hoops to cancel, so I refused to add it.
I'm now backing off of that. Why? Because we control the cancellations. So if you want to cancel before auto-renew happens, you can contact us and we will take care of it. You're not contacting TinyPass - you're contacting Robert or Brumby. Email me, DM me, call Brumby on his work phone (he loves that) - we'll take care of it.
OK, so let's get to the stuff you want to know.
The New Subscription Structure
There was one goal with this: finding a way to deliver "premium" content. That's hard to do with a "read this many posts on this many devices before subscribing" model. I didn't want to put the whole thing behind a pay wall (although we considered it), but I did want a way to deliver content that wouldn't be, how should I say it, readily available to others. My one skill (really my only skill) is to look at something and say "the order should be D, F, A, E, B, and then C". I don't even understand football all that well. But I can tell you that A, E, and B should absolutely be third, fourth, and fifth.
I work really hard on D F A E B C, and I think many of you read my stuff because of D F A E B C. I think D F A E B C is really worth something, so I'd like to deliver it directly to you, the people who are going to support me in this. So here's how it will work.
There will be two tiers to subscriptions. The Blue Tier and the Orange Tier.
The Blue Tier is the same thing as the subscription you've had for six years. The only difference is that we're dropping the free reads per month from 5 to 2. If you want to share an article with a friend, they can read it (plus another one). Upon their third click, they'd need a subscription. The cost for this tier goes from $24 per year to $30 per year. $2.50 per month for unlimited access to all articles on the site.
The Orange Tier is my way to deliver things directly to you. Orange Tier subscribers get the Blue Tier subscription plus:
+ A bi-weekly newsletter. Direct to your inbox every other Monday. Yes, a newsletter. All of those long, drawn-out posts I've written over the past few months, where I take 4,000 words and evaluate what the new eligibility guidelines mean? Those posts will exist as this newsletter. If you like it when I go deep on a topic (or all of the topics), this is your spot. If you get excited when I've written 3,500 words on something, Orange Tier is for you. If you dread it, just stick with Blue Tier.
+ A Slack channel. I've wanted a way to do a private message board, and Slack is what we came up with. Orange Tier subscribers will get access to this private Slack channel where we can interact daily. Want to ask me a question about basketball practice? Want to have a discussion about the depth chart for 2023? Let's interact there. I have these discussions now - sometimes in DM's, sometimes in Twitter responses, and that seems like a good place to consolidate all of it. (Also, the things I only text to friends, the "I'm hearing" stuff? That will exist there as well.)
+ The previews (the basketball preview, the baseball preview, and my 25,000-word football preview) will be available to Orange Tier subscribers. They will also be available for purchase individually each time they're published, but you'll get them all as part of your Orange Tier subscription.
+ There will also be a discount for Orange Tier subscribers at the IlliniBoard store (coming soon once we get some printing issues worked out).
The cost for the Orange Tier: $60 per year. This is the "Robert" tier, more or less. I've made the move to doing this full time, and I'm adding a bunch of new stuff (including podcasts and such), and if you want to support that, this is your tier.
In a way, it's Patreon without the Patreon. I subscribe to some YouTube Patreon because the guy makes cool airplane videos and I want to see more of them. I subscribe to a college football data Patreon because the guy makes great data visualizations and I want to see more of them. If you like the content I provide (and the content I'm proposing to provide), this is where you can support me.
There's one more tier, but it's not really a "tier". There are a few of you who have been very generous over the years, giving well above the suggested subscription price. I needed an option for you as well (feels weird saying it that way), so I came up with the Seventeen Club (you know, "one of the seventeen"?). There's no additional content for Seventeen Club members. You'll simply get one thing for boosting your subscription to $90 per year: this One Of The Seventeen shirt before it goes up for sale in the IlliniBoard Store:
If you don't want that shirt, others will be available soon and you can pick from one of those. But, your in the Seventeen club - you're probably gonna want a Seventeen shirt.
I'm 3,500+ words here so I need to wrap this up. Maybe some words on how all of this will work.
How All Of This Will Work
This change solves one of the biggest issues we've had over the last half-dozen years: two logins. Because TinyPass managed our subscriptions, they had their own login process which couldn't be tied to IlliniBoard logins (user accounts that allow people to comment on posts). This led to a ton of confusion.
Today's change fixes that. Your user account will now be tied to your subscription. So you'll fit into one of these three categories:
- If you're an existing user, log in to the site (you're probably already logged in) and then choose your subscription on the Subscriptions Page. There's a secure way to enter your credit card info and then you're all set. It will auto-renew, so if you want to cancel, there will be info on that page (or just email me).
- If you've never had an IlliniBoard login (you've never commented), then you'll have to sign up for an IlliniBoard account first (go to the "register" button in the top right corner). You'll get an email confirming your registration, and then you can log in, and then you can follow that link to the Subscriptions Page.
- If you did have an IlliniBoard login but you forgot what it was, there's a Forgot Password link up there as well. You can retrieve it that way, log in, and then go to the Subscriptions Page.
That should cover it. No more "I log in to comment over here and I log in to subscribe over here". Log in, pick your subscription level, fill in your CC info, the end. As long as you're logged in to the site your subscription will be active.
What else? I guess I should cover the "lifetime subscription" folks here. At various times, I've given out lifetime subscriptions through contests and such. If you're one of those people, you'll get an email with instructions on how to log in to your new subscription. If you don't receive it in the next few days, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
As mentioned above, if you're one of those people who still has an active subscription that runs out between now and the end of December, forward that email to me and we'll get you set up with the subscription that you paid for until that date.
If you subscribe today to the Blue Tier, that's it. You'll immediately have access to every post for a year (or, hopefully, if you never cancel, 30 years).
If you subscribe today to the Orange Tier, you'll get full subscription plus you'll receive two emails in the next week, one granting you access to the Slack channel and then the first Newsletter on Monday (and every other Monday after that). When the football preview comes out next month, it will be emailed directly to you. When the basketball preview comes out the month after that, it will also be emailed directly to you. Direct delivery to your email box is the whole thing there.
If you subscribe to the Seventeen Club, first off, thanks a ton, and you'll get all the Orange Tier stuff plus an email requesting your shirt size. My guess on when the shirt orders will happen is around the first of October. Plenty of time to wear your One of the Seventeen shirt to the first game.
I think that's about it. One final note.
I remember where I was when the first subscriptions went live. We lived in the house before the house before this house. I was sitting at the dining room table (with the same dog at my feet, just less cone-y). I remember the nerves, and then I remember calming myself down with "this isn't my job, so the success of this doesn't really matter".
Now there are different nerves. Now the success of this does really matter. I've made this leap, waited out the pandemic, and formatted the site to what I believe is a fair way to offer my wares to the public. I've done what I believe I needed to do to get to this point - worked to attain a press pass, wrote as many words as possible, drove to 8:00 pm basketball games on Wednesday nights where I got back to St. Louis at 2:15 and then got up for work the next morning - all to get to this point where I push this button and see if this can be an actual thing.
So if I haven't made my point, or if your eyes glazed over about 2,000 words in, I'll just sum it up here:
I thought sports blogs were cool so I started one. As it grew, I started to dream about doing this full time. That photo at the top (one of the walls in the Smith Center) - that's important to me because I'm in the picture. In the corner of the pressbox, right under the IL in ILLINI, that's me. I look at that photo a lot as a reminder of the work it took to be seated there.
In 2020, the circumstances presented themselves (with my wife's job offer here) for a sudden move to Champaign. I've weathered the worst of the pandemic (at least I think that was the worst) and now college sports are returning which means it's time to launch. I registered my first website in September of 2008 so this is 12 years of build-up to this moment. I don't even know if "independent fanalyst wants to write recruiting-free words about college athletics for money" is a thing, but...
We're live. Subscribe here.
Note: We're aware that comments aren't currently working. All of this moved over to a new server this morning and there are some bugs that Brumby is working on. We should have the comments working soon.