With 2023 wrapping up and Sounder at Heart now nearly four months into our independent life, this feels like a good time to check in with everyone to make sure you're getting the absolute most out of your membership.
As you may have seen, we are currently running a user survey where we are seeking to gauge your satisfaction and solicit any feedback you might have for improvements. In going through the first 150 or so responses, it has become apparent that we could do a better job of making sure everyone actually knows how to use their membership.
With that in mind, consider this a sort of guide for getting the most out of Sounder at Heart.
What are the different membership levels?
Perhaps the first thing to know is that there are several memberships tiers that come with different perks. Here's a quick rundown:
Member (free): This is our most basic membership and allows you to subscribe to various newsletters. Periodically, we also make stories only available to members, as well.
Backer ($19): This is our entry-level paid membership and it allows you access to all of our written and podcast content. Just a heads up, we'll probably be raising the price to $25 in 2024 so you may want to get in on that soon if you want the current price.
Supporter ($74): To be completely honest, this is the level we need most people to be at in order for this to be a really sustainable project. The main added perks to this level are access to our Discord server (more on that later) and discounts on our merch table (more on that later, too).
Advocate ($206): We're working on adding some more perks to this level, but for now Advocates get everything in the above tiers plus discounts on live events (which we plan to do several of in 2024).
Benefactor ($500): Another tier we're working on adding perks to, but for now they're getting free tickets to YachtCon (which will be returning!), some free merch and our undying appreciation.
What kind of stories are going behind the paywall?
So far, roughly 95% of our stories have been in front of the paywall or accessible for free with a membership. I don't think that's going to change, but I do think we're getting a better idea of what type of content is going behind the paywall. For the most part, breaking news or anything we could have gotten based purely on publicly accessible information is going to be free. Most of the stuff behind the paywall will be stories that either require more reporting or analysis, and for the most part those stories will supplement the free stuff. As an example, our coverage of the Sounders' roster announcement was free, but the deeper analysis of what those decisions meant was behind the paywall.
Why do I have to log in with an emailed link?
I've talked to Ghost (our CMS provider) about this and they insist that emailing sign-in links is more secure. Regardless, they don't have any plans to offer traditional passwords. Other than this, we've actually been really happy with our new platform and don't see this as a dealbreaker, which means we need to make the most of it.
The good news is that whenever you click on those emailed links, it sets up a cookie that should keep you signed in on that device in that browser for six months. If you find that you're having to log in more often than not, the most common reasons seem to be that either you're using private (incognito) browsing and cookies aren't saved from session to session, or you're following links from another social media platform that is opening in an un-cookied browser. The way around the latter is to simply copy the url of the story you want to read and open it in your normal browser where you're presumably already logged in.
Let's talk about Discord...
By now, you've probably heard us mention the Discord server multiple times and if you're not on it, you probably have no idea what we're talking about. The short version is that it's a message board that's really great for real-time conversations. The longer version is that it's proven to be a pretty cool offshoot of this community. The information is a bit more free-flowing there, since it's a more contained community, and I tend to think folks are a bit less guarded. So far, we've held two AMA's with notable soccer personalities (Matt Doyle and Andrew Wiebe) and we have another lined up for this Friday (Herculez Gomez). We're going to try to do more of those and they've proven to be pretty popular. Discored is also the place where you can submit questions to our mailbag podcast which we do a couple of times per month.
If you're a Supporter or above and not already on there, just shoot us an email and we'll get you all signed up. Once you have the link, you just need to select your "role" and you'll have access to everything.
How do I access discounts?
The discount code was on the welcome page you should have been shown when you first signed up, but if you didn't copy that down don't worry. Again, just shoot us an email and we'll get you all set up. Basically, you get everything from our merch table for the same price we pay. Some nice stocking stuffers in there!
Do I have to listen to the paid podcasts in my browser?
No! We've seen this feedback a few times and that tells me that folks don't quite understand how to get the private RSS feed delivered to their podcast-listening app of choice. I will note that some podcast readers – like Spotify – don't have private RSS integration, but most of them do. This link explains how to start getting those delivered directly to you. Among the offerings on the private RSS feed are the mini-podcast Sound Bite(s), our mailbag episodes and extended interviews. I'll also note that we put every podcast on the private RSS, so you don't have to follow the public one as well.
What about the other paid-subscriber stuff?
In addition to putting roughly 5% of our written content behind the paywall, we maintain a few permanent pages that are intended for paid subscribers, as well. The big ones are our running estimate of the Sounders' salary-cap position and our best guess at the organizational depth chart that goes all the way down to the academy.
How's it going, anyway?
Without getting too much into specifics, I will tell you that we have about 3,000 subscribers to our various newsletters and about 60% of them are paying. That's a pretty great ratio and we've given ourselves a very solid runway. The writers have all been getting paid for the last four months and I'll be paying myself for the first time this month.
Are you getting off Twitter?
One of the persistent requests we heard in our survey was a more diversified social media presence. While we may not entirely break from Twitter, we will be scaling back what we do there. For instance, I don't think we're going to livetweet games in 2024. Instead, we're going to try to get more information onto platforms like Threads, Bluesky and Mastodon. We're also on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
Are you planning any improvements to on-site commenting?
Simply getting a functional commenting section was a pretty big lift, but we definitely understand that it's not where it was during the SB Nation era. I can't promise that we'll be able to bring back every feature, but we are at least hoping to bring back comment counts on the front page and are trying to figure out how to turn highly rec'd comments green. More advanced features like keeping track of read and unread comments may be a bit more complicated than we're prepared to do.
What's up with FanPosts?
We don't have anything formally set up like that, but we are taking user submissions under the heading "From the community." If you have something you'd like to submit, just send us an email and we'll consider it.
How do I gift a membership to someone else?
If you want to buy a membership for someone else, we now have a way to do that. The process is a bit different from buying one for yourself, and it has to be done outside of the normal method of subscribing, but just follow this link to gift a Backer subscription ($19) or this link for a Supporter subscription ($74). Fill out your contact info for billing purposes and then send us an email with the name and email address for the person you want to give the subscription to. We’ll set them up with a one-year “complimentary” subscription that won’t be tied to your payment info, leaving it up to them to renew on their own.
Are there other ways I can support Sounder at Heart?
Aside from becoming a member and buying memberships for others, the easiest and most mutually beneficial way to support us is to use our affiliate links when shopping at places like Fanatics, MLSstore.com or these other places. We get a cut of any purchases you make, which can add up pretty fast!
What if I have a business that wants to support you?
Perhaps the biggest thing we need to make Sounder at Heart viable in the longterm is finding a few more sponsors who want to work with us. If you have a business that could benefit from sponsoring us or have a connection with someone, please reach out. Our rates are pretty reasonable and you'd get access to a very dedicated group of readers.
What are you planning in 2024?
As you may have noticed, this is very much a work in progress. Just recently we added a new newsletter called "Transfer Tracker" where we'll put the most interesting Sounders transfer news and rumors. (As of now, everyone who gets our newsletters is signed up, but you can unsubscribe by visiting your profile page.) We also had our first members-only watch party during the playoffs, something we plan to do more of in 2024, along with some other live events including the return of YachtCon in February (details TK). The offseason should give us a chance to finally bring back our full archives, as well. Beyond that, we are toying around with doing a sort of postgame call-in show through the Discord server, expanding our Reign coverage and hopefully commissioning more in-depth articles. If you have suggestions, please feel free to let us know.