Can Brian Wilde make independent Habs reporting work?

Updated with details of the new project below.

Would you pay $4 a month to hear Brian Wilde talk about the Canadiens?

That’s the question Wilde put to his Twitter followers today, proposing to become an independent hockey reporter supported directly by his audience through subscriptions. He’ll go ahead if he has enough interest, with a launch in August/September.

With almost 1,000 votes to the Twitter poll in two hours, the results are split, with 56% saying yes. But that doesn’t mean 560 people are guaranteed to sign up and remain subscribed.

Wilde elaborates in follow-up tweets:

So in short, this is what Wilde is proposing:

  • Call of the Wilde analysis pieces
  • Reporting on the Canadiens and the Laval Rocket, including scouting reports
  • Podcasts
  • Call-in shows and Q&As
  • An office pool feature

For this, you’ll pay either $4 a month or $30 a year.

Will that work?

The price

Wilde has done his homework in setting a price point here. The monthly price is in that cup-of-coffee range that will be high enough to be useful but not so high that people can’t afford it. The yearly price offers a significant discount (37.5%) in exchange for commitment.

But that “for the price of a cup of coffee” comparison has been used so much that people have long run out of cups of coffee to sacrifice in favour of a subscription to something. Yeah, $4 a month is cheaper than a newspaper or TV subscription, but if that newspaper subscription gave you access to 20 of your favourite columnists that each want $4 a month from you now as independents, it becomes more expensive for you.

So for Wilde to be successful, he needs to offer something that is worth you cancelling a subscription to something like The Athletic and going to him instead.

And he doesn’t just need you, he needs a lot of yous. A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that to support him and a partner with a middle-class salary, plus taxes and reasonable expenses (we’re assuming no travel here), this service would need 5-10,000 yearly subscribers.

Wilde has 27,000 Twitter followers, so more than one fifth of them would need to sign up.

More likely, he could combine a smaller number of paid subscribers with other sources of revenue, such as ads, sponsorships and freelance revenue. Either way, there’s a lot of work ahead.

For comparison’s sake, Canadaland gets about $20,000 a month from its Patreon subscribers, and it has a staff of about half a dozen plus regular freelancers. It gets by with Patreon funding and money from sponsors.

Supply and demand

The key to making this a successful business venture will be offering something rare enough and in enough demand to make a lot of people want to pay for it.

There’s definitely demand for Canadiens coverage. It’s by far the top sports team in the city, and every game has sold out for years.

But there’s also a huge supply of news from other sources. There’s the TV networks like RDS, TSN, TVA Sports and Sportsnet, there’s TSN Radio, 98.5 and 91.9 Sports, there’s La Presse, the Journal de Montréal and the Montreal Gazette’s Hockey Inside/Out, there’s CBC/Radio-Canada, there’s NHL.com and the Canadiens’ official organs, there’s independent websites like Eyes on the Prize, and even gossip sites like Dans les coulisses and 25 Stanley.

And the vast majority of these sources are free.

For Wilde’s project to be successful, he needs to offer something that’s better than all that. Podcasts that are better than what you’ll hear on TSN 690. Stories that are more interesting or insightful than the various newspaper columnists. Scoops that beat out an army of reporters who know they could build a career on such things (and covering an organization known for its secrecy). Access that beats what’s granted to broadcast rights holders that pay millions. Call-ins that are more entertaining than Ron Fournier.

That’s not easy, to put it mildly.

But not impossible, either. Wilde has grown an audience by having opinions that are unmoved by popular opinion. He’s guided by the facts more than his emotions. And while he cares about his audience (respecting them is one reason he’s been so successful), he won’t take the easy bait and jump on bandwagons. With opinions about the Canadiens a dime a dozen (and even then you’re overcharged), Wilde needs to be well above the pack to get people to offer financial support.

Reporting on the Laval Rocket and scouting in general puts Wilde in a spot that’s a bit less crowded with competing media. If he can be a top source for information about the minor leagues, he could become very popular among a niche audience. But are thousands of people ready to pay for analysis and news about Montreal’s AHL farm team?

Realistic hype

Wilde’s new project will give him lots of freedom to do what his audience wants instead of what Bell Media bosses want him to do. But he’ll also be working harder for less money.

The project could turn into a flop, with only a few friends and hard-core supporters chipping in money, far below the critical mass necessary to make it something of real value. Or it could grow, gain more contributors and become an independent site that people value, like The Athletic or Canadaland.

Wilde’s Twitter poll is a first step toward gauging interest, but the real test will be how much money comes in when it launches, and especially how many people remain subscribed after a year or two, when their outrage over CTV laying him off has long faded away.

UPDATE: The project is part of a website called Recrutes, focused on hockey prospects. Habs 365 is a subscription option. Wilde has some content free on the site, including his first video:

18 thoughts on “Can Brian Wilde make independent Habs reporting work?

  1. Media Man

    Interesting. He admits to being courted by mainstream outlets. Have any idea who they are?

    I like to speculate. TSN Radio fulltime shift or show somewhere. Did TTP ask him to run their sports area?

    On TV, there’s always TSN as they get back Habs regional coverage and of course, Rogers with their Sportsnet channel and with the City channel getting more local news, and Rogers really needing a top notch local presence and a hockey guy with the contacts and network.

    Reply
  2. Alain

    I would much prefer to see Brian Wilde takeover SportsCentral Montreal or jump to Sportsnet. He is a pro – nobody covers hockey, sports, amateur sports like he does. Elias from BT is a formidable short-term fill-in but few have Wilde’s clout/ it factor. I do not think an indie podcast is a good idea for a seasoned pro.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I would much prefer to see Brian Wilde takeover SportsCentral Montreal or jump to Sportsnet.

      Sportsnet Central Montreal’s days are likely numbered. The new local newscast will take over both of its time slots, and the CRTC obligation to broadcast the show expires on Sept. 1. Its ratings aren’t high enough to make it a viable broadcast on its own. I asked Rogers for comment on its future but haven’t heard back yet.

      Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          What about the morning show ? He would be good there, no?

          Doing what? They don’t need a sports reporter or anchor. And I don’t think he wants to be Joanne Vrakas’s mat leave replacement.

          Reply
  3. Rob Braide.

    Brian is doing just the right thing. Hey, I’m not at huge follower of the Habs, or sports in general, except in playoffs. I negotiated multiple deals with the team from Ron Corey on for CJAD. Did deals with Expos, Als, Impact etc. as well. I understand the business of sports and so does Brian.

    I’d pay the money anyways. Brian is one of the most entertaining sports commentators I’ve heard. (Bird is up there). Friends of the media need to support initiatives like this to help our stars make the transition from old analogue to new digital. Go Bri Go.

    Reply
  4. Zeke

    Howdy!

    He *needs* $150K – $300K per year from subscribers? I would scale that number down dramatically. I would guess somewhere north of $40K – $50K should do the trick.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I would guess somewhere north of $40K – $50K should do the trick

      $40,000 a year isn’t going to pay two decent salaries, freelancers and overhead costs.

      Reply
  5. dilbert

    He could do worse. Consider what Elliot Price accomplished doing a radio show on the lowest power station in the Montreal market. Now he’s in Toronto doing the “big times” of radio.

    Sometimes it’s just about keeping your “brand” in play.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Consider what Elliot Price accomplished doing a radio show on the lowest power station in the Montreal market.

      CFMB is 50,000 watts.

      Reply
  6. Mario D.

    I have a hard time with you publicizing what looks like such a scam ! Not that i have any doubt with Wilde being honest with his intentions but mostly because in an era where everything is free and bountiful ,why pay for a wannabe sports reporter. Not even an expert ,even less of a personality just a wannabe. Has been approached by mainstream outlets ? Ya sure !

    Sorry but whit the anglophone market shrinking almost every day it’s not surprizing for a guy like him to make desperate choices to stay under the diming spotlights. Nice guy for sure but way behind many others that deserve before him to have their place in the sports sunshine.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      why pay for a wannabe sports reporter. Not even an expert ,even less of a personality just a wannabe.

      He was paid by a professional news organization for decades to report on sports. I don’t see how that makes one a “wannabe”. And doing work for a little-known subscription website hidden behind a paywall is a very poor way of staying in the spotlight. In the end it will be Wilde’s audience that decides whether his work is worth the price.

      Reply
  7. David Tucci

    There’s a plethora of free sources that supply info on the Habs. After hearing him doing his regular spot on Tony Marinaro’s show for the last couple of seasons, I would never consider paying for his opinions/insight. I think he should consider doing this in a different market.

    Reply

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