The State of FanGraphs 2024

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Hi everyone!

It’s been almost two years since we talked about how FanGraphs is doing, and with Opening Day fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to give you an update on where the site stands now.

FanGraphs currently has 13 full-time employees, along with a terrific group of part-time contributors. Here’s a quick recap of some of the improvements we’ve made to the site and the new features we’ve recently launched:

Over the next few weeks, the FanGraphs staff is going to be highlighting some of the most useful (and possibly lesser known) features of the site. Even avid users of FanGraphs sometimes don’t know all of the cool tools and data we have, and we hope that showcasing all of the ways we can help you better understand and analyze baseball will make the decision to become a Member an easy one.

I’m very excited about the future of FanGraphs. In addition to all of the excellent analysis you’ve come to rely on, we have a lot planned for this season, including a very long and still growing to-do list of things we’d like to bring you. Being a Member not only helps us develop new site features and hire new voices, it also comes with Member-exclusive benefits, like ad free browsing, dark and classic site modes, and one-click data exports.

FanGraphs does not have outside investors. We are funded almost entirely by Membership and advertising. Becoming a Member is the best way to support FanGraphs, a fact that the past year has made more obvious than ever. I’m sure it’s not news to you that online media had one of its worst years ever in 2023. Much of this was due to a drastic decrease in advertising revenue. In the first quarter of 2023, our advertising revenue was down about 50% year over year.

Fortunately, we were able to offset much of that loss through Member support, largely treading water as a site. But with advertising rates tanking, I spent much of the year learning more about the digital ad space and finding ways to improve our dwindling ad revenue, which still makes up nearly 50% of our revenue overall. While I won’t go into all of those details, I think some of what I learned about advertising and its relationship with publishers is important to know as a consumer of digital media.

When you see ads on FanGraphs, they are almost completely programmatic. We did one direct campaign with Topps right around Opening Day last year, but most of the time we do not work with companies directly. As a medium-sized publisher, it’s hard for us to command enough eyeballs or ad spend for major advertisers to work with us in that capacity. FanGraphs would be a rounding error for an S&P 500 company’s ad budget, and marketing teams probably aren’t going to set up a direct sales connection with us. Instead, each ad slot is bid on in real time based on a number of factors.

This is the mechanism that funds not just FanGraphs, but much of journalism and the internet as a whole. It’s the underbelly of digital media.

When a company wants to place an ad, they do it through a Demand Side Platform, or DSP. The big players in this game are Google, The Trade Desk, Amazon, and Microsoft. As an advertiser, you can target your ads based on various criteria; the advertiser pays the DSP for this service.

Those ads are then run through an ad exchange, which we access through a Supply Side Platform, or SSP. We have direct relationships with a number of SSPs that put our inventory up for auction and then return bids based on that inventory. Each SSP takes some percentage of the advertising revenue for providing this service.

On our end, we use various technologies like Google Ad Manager, Prebid, Amazon Publishing Platform, Assertive Yield, Connatix Video, identity providers, ad block mitigation, and ad quality services to facilitate getting ads on the site. All of these cost money upfront or take a percentage of ad revenue. There are companies that can manage all of this for you and give you a turnkey solution; as you might imagine, those management companies take some additional percentage of publisher advertising revenue as well.

Ad blocking mitigation is a particularly interesting wrinkle in that the company that owns the ad block browser plugin also sells the solution to the plugin and takes a percentage of advertising revenue. And then there are the ad quality services that make sure our readers aren’t served malicious ads, again for a fee.

You may see a pattern developing here. At each step along the way, however much the advertiser is spending to place an ad, the publisher’s cut of it is significantly reduced. Programmatic advertising was a $109 billion business in 2022, but a 2023 study showed that only 65% of ad dollars go into a publisher’s pocket, and that might be the best-case scenario. If you do the math, that’s just over $38 billion not going to publishers.

(If you want to read more on advertising and journalism, I’d recommend this thorough overview of how the policy and regulatory environment has impacted journalism, much of which is about advertising.)

This is why Membership is the best way to support us. As opposed to supporting the site through advertising, which as you can see is an incredibly convoluted and money-syphoning system, the money path for Membership is transparent. When you’re a FanGraphs Member, you are directly supporting the site — we receive 97% of your Membership fee (we still have to pay transaction fees). And if you’re an advertiser, consider contacting me directly (ads@fangraphs.com), so that we might receive 100% of your advertising dollars.

As always, thank you so much for your support. As we navigate a constantly shifting advertising landscape, Membership is essential to not only sustaining the site, but helping it grow. When you become a Member, you’re making the future of FanGraphs possible.





David Appelman is the creator of FanGraphs.

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bowks14member
3 months ago

Thank you, David, and I am so sorry that the state of digital media and advertising is what it is. I am proud to be a member and appreciate all of the work of the fine folks here at Fangraphs!