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BSN Denver bets big but will readers chip in?

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"But then I recalled the last time I tried to read an article at the Denver Post’s website. It was a hellish experience. A massive pop-up ad filled my monitor and I wildly clicked at it in an effort to make it go away but I killed my browser window instead."

Brandon Spano isn’t afraid push in his chips into the middle of the table. If anything, the former sports talk radio host has shown that he has an appetite for such risks. Spano boldly walked away from his career a couple of years ago and assembled a ragtag group of young writers to create BSN Denver, a Colorado sports news website expressly purposed to unseat the Denver Post as the most comprehensive in the state.

Dubbed as “Colorado’s Largest Sports News Source”, BSN Denver covers the Broncos, Avalanche, Rockies and Nuggets as well as CU and CSU athletics with a steady stream of articles, daily video content and team-specific podcasts. Its credentialled staff includes writers Ryan Koenigsberg, Zac Stephens, AJ Haefele, Adrian Dater, Jake Shapiro, Drew Creasman, Harrison Wind, Christian Clark and Andre Simone as well as video contributor Allie Monroe as well as the boisterous Spano himself.  

The site has swelled in popularity and now boasts nearly three million unique users and over a million podcast downloads. But Brandon Spano isn’t satisfied so he’s pushing all his chips into the middle of the table once again. Starting this week BSN will be scrapping its original Wordpress template and launching a fresh new site accompanied by a slick smart phone application. The designs of both were revealed on Tuesday evening’s launch party at Jackson’s Sports Grill in Greenwood Village the entirety of which BSN rented for the event.

Both the new site and the application are beautiful - clean, modern and user-friendly.

Tapping on a laptop at last night’s event while previewing the new site I commented to Ryan Koenigsberg, “I really like this, but there’s not really any room for advertising”. And that’s when he dropped the bomb: BSN Denver is doing away with advertising entirely.

So how does BSN Denver intend to continue to keep salaried writers covering the local teams without support from advertisers? By asking readers to chip-in. BSN is moving to an all-subscription model. Podcast and video content will remain free but the body of the site and app are going to cost readers $4.99 a month, $35 per year or $299 for a lifetime subscription.

When I learned this my immediate reaction was one of bewilderment. I thought that there was just no way the model could work. Who in the hell is going to pay for BSN content when they can use other sites for free? But then I recalled the last time I tried to read an article at the Denver Post’s website. It was a hellish experience. A massive pop-up ad filled my monitor and I wildly clicked at it in an effort to make it go away but I killed my browser window instead. And this kind of thing happens all the time - and mobile sites are even worse - content shifts around as advertisements load and pop ups obscure the content readers clicked to find.

The idea of paying a few dollars a month seems a lot less daunting when I consider the clutterey alternative. I get it. But will enough subscribers get it to sustain the site and its staff? That’s the gamble that Brandon Spano and company are taking.

We all pay for content that we desire. I have Amazon Prime and Netflix. I’m an ESPN Insider and I pay for a FootballGuys.com membership. For the cost of a venti latte a month of BSN coverage strikes me as a bargain. It will be fascinating to see if the sports fans of Denver agree.

Here are some images from last night's BSN Denver launch party:

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