Great tweet response from a reader about a terrific case study for successful deployment of a "freemium" strategy (in online sports media, no less) being Rivals.com. Let's examine...
How did Rivals pull it off? I'd argue three main reasons:
(1) Partly, it was the same reason that the Wall Street Journal pulled it off -- they launched with a strategy to make subscribing part of the service, right from the start.
(2) Partly, it was because they trafficked in, what was then, very exclusive information. It's the same reason finance and political newsletters still find a paying audience.
(3) Partly, it was because of the incredible message board communities -- incredible, in part, because the subscription fee was a hurdle to keep out the trolls and leave it to serious fans.
Hard to replicate now:
(1) Sites that might charge aren't launching; they are established (as free destinations);
(2) Info/intel -- even recruiting -- is simply too commoditized; you could not start Rivals or Scout in 2009 and expect folks to pay a subscriber fee;
(3) Great message boards are VERY hard to develop. They take years and dedication, which was all more available pre-Web 2.0.
When Yahoo bought Rivals, I was curious to see if they would eliminate the subscription fee and make all that juicy recruiting content widely (and freely) available, to try to increase their market share of overall unique users. They didn't, to their credit (I think -- hard to calculate the opportunity cost). Obviously, Yahoo Sports is doing just fine, audience-wise, without Rivals being free.