Future of mastersrankings.com in doubt — with funding an issue

Site earned Seto a David Pain Distinguished Service Award in 2009.

Milestone site earned Seto a David Pain Distinguished Service Award in 2009 from USATF.

Over the past month, visitors from 137 countries have checked out John Seto’s behemoth of a site — mastersrankings.com. “I’ve seen around 100 simultaneous visitors earlier this month and 9,000 unique visitors over a weekend,” he told me in response to queries. “There should be over 60,000 sessions and about 360,000 page views this month. There have been over 137,000 unique visitors in 190 countries over the past 10 months.” Trust me, that’s impressive. But truth is, the site he took over in 2007 (and expanded worldwide last year after I reported the demise of mastersathletics.net) is not guaranteed to last forever. Especially at this pace. John writes that he works between 60 and 85 hours a week on the site. “Almost every waking hour is spent on rankings-related stuff.” he says. “I am at my desk seven days a week around 7 a.m. and stop working between 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.” This sounds like a recipe for disaster. His rankings — actually seasonal lists — are crucial to our sport. But less than 7 percent of the data is input by athletes. The rest is stuff he harvests and uploads. So now’s a good time for a reality check.

Here’s my fist extended Q&A with John since 2008:

Masterstrack.com: Since you’ve gone global, how many athletes from how many nations are now in your database?

John Seto: 86,544 – 151.  These numbers are displayed on the home page.  The number of athletes represents the people with listed results (there are over 108,000 names in the database) and includes a small percentage of duplicates. People notify me of and I find duplicates and “combine” them frequently.
What share of results on the rankings site are self-submitted?

Less than 7 percent. A little over 19,000 of the over 279,000 performances inserted since February 2014 (when I went global) have been submitted by an athlete first. I process complete meet results when I insert and the first entered is the only performance listed.  
About 3.5 percent of the performances are submitted by athlete only. The significant majority of listed performances will always be by “administrator processing,” and people can help improve my efficiency by copying and pasting complete meet results into an easy to use form .  It may seem trivial, but it has a big effect on productivity.
How much longer can you keep up your pace?

I don’t know! I am a workaholic and have done this kind of pace many times. Aging takes its toll, though, so one can only guess!
Has WMA or USATF helped much with costs? What are prospects for more subsidies?

There is not much money available from national and world masters’ governing bodies as we all know.  USATF, in my opinion, provided a significant portion ($4,000 which has amounted to about $4 per hour as I historically spent about 1,000 hours annually on rankings) of the masters budget toward rankings. 

Other federations tell me they have no significant amount either. They have not been part of my short-term funding strategy. The governing bodies can help by endorsing and publicizing the site plus collaborating and promoting to their membership. 

My funding strategy is to find companies who think this is worth supporting and will donate a moderate amount in exchange for advertising on the site. These companies can market supporting a noble cause and leverage the significantly increasing site traffic that result from their support. 

Enough support enables hiring a staff that will significantly increase monthly performance insertion and number of athletes added. About 16,500 athletes have been added this year – imagine how much this can grow with more help!  

My fundraising efforts have been ineffective, I think, because I am “cold calling” and the people I am trying to reach do not know MastersRankings. Help with this is really appreciated and people can call (845-635-9487) or email me (john.seto@mastersrankings.com).
How many donations have you received from athletes and the like? What is a range or typical dollar amount?

578 people ranging from $0.37 to $1,000. These donations have been invaluable to keep this effort going. 
Would you consider selling the rankings site and software? How much would you charge?

I don’t know. This is my baby and obsession. The website is huge with about 100 administrative functions that make the monumental task of compiling all-inclusive, worldwide rankings lists and having the lists available close to real time much more doable.

For example, I hope to insert 40,000 results this month when my monthly average has been about 17,000. There is much efficiency built into the programs and processes, so I believe that the system is fairly valuable. I can’t sell it “as is” either since I did not build it as an “off the shelf” program. Much work would need to be done to program, train and write instructions.
What are the most memorable notes of appreciation that you got?

Many people have said doing this is thankless. It is hugely rewarding to me to do this little thing that helps motivate so many. People have sent me notes, called and have sought me out every week to tell me how much the site means to them – they are all memorable and what keep me going on this uphill battle.
Have you ever heard from Martin Gasselsberger of mastersathletics.net? If so, what does he think of your work?

Martin graciously Facebook-messaged me over a year ago, answered a few questions I had, gave me some advice and wished me luck.
How do you balance your day job and training with rankings work?

I did very little business last year and virtually no business this year to focus on my rankings vision. My training is during competitions except for the times I take my oldest daughter for a bike ride. 

We both love to spend time with each other and going on bike rides, plus I get the benefit of biking with around 400 pounds of total weight, so it is a good workout (I don’t appreciate her laughing at me struggling up the hills!).
How is your own throwing career progressing? 

The hammer, weight and superweight performances are indicative of one who does not train. Doing the little bit I do does enable me to (paraphrasing what several have said about me) be the second best pound for pound, inch for inch 200- and 300-pound thrower in the world! My throwing is not as important to me as making this site a spectacular resource and motivational tool for masters.
How many athletes have bought top 25 awards materials?

277. People asked about having awards to commemorate their accomplishments when I announced the “Best Ranked” awards. I decided to offer the awards because a vast majority of people answering the survey said they wanted something. The wonderful ladies at National Masters News and I independently had the same idea of them administering the awards program, which I hope has been good for athletes to have the consistent source. 
Anything else people should know about the future of mastersrankings.com?

The site’s mission is to motivate people to be active and healthier – this is why the site is all-inclusive. The site’s future form is dependent on fundraising success, so it is premature to discuss the vision I have for the site and the progress being made. 

People can go read the newsletters and can subscribe to receive the newsletters by clicking on the link on this page. 

The vision for the site is derived from what athletes say they want. Athletes can further tell me what they want by completing the online survey.

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June 21, 2015

17 Responses

  1. peter van aken - June 21, 2015

    John, your efforts are equivalent to throwing that 300 pound weight- daunting and boggling to imagine- yet so far you have been able to do it. I salute your spirit and your contributions to our sport.

  2. Milan Jamrich - June 21, 2015

    This is not a good situation. Small contributions from athletes will help a little, but they are not the solution. Is there any way to apply for grants?

  3. Nolan Shaheed - June 21, 2015

    John, Your work is very important and invaluable for Masters track and field.

    How much do you actually need, immediately and annually, to keep this going?

  4. EM - June 21, 2015

    The USATF and WMA need to support this. Corporate support should be extended and solicited. This is more than one individual can maintain. This should be taken over by a database firm or a corporate entity. It’s too important to not maintain.

  5. MastersRankings - June 21, 2015

    EM, Supporting this system falls in 3 categories: financial; gathering; and promoting. USATF and WMA cannot justify and / or afford to spend the money needed to support the mission I have taken on. There is a huge difference between Top 25 and all-inclusive lists as well as wide ranges of the effort can be spent gathering. I have elected to take on an all-inclusive system (lists including all legitimate performances) and have developed and continue to develop tools to make gathering really efficient. We could not have masters as we enjoy without USATF and the WMA in my opinion – they support us in so many ways more than financial. Corporate support, grants, etc. are what will support this system / site. I can only do so much in a day and need help soliciting the corporate support and grants.

  6. MastersRankings - June 21, 2015

    MastersRankings future is not in doubt in my mind – MastersRankings will continue. Tremendous progress has been made over the past year and a few months and the future is bright for some more revolutionary improvements and developments. All the progress will entice the financial support (then more amazing things will happen).

  7. MastersRankings - June 21, 2015

    Nolan, I can’t tell you how much I need annually to keep this going. I have not figured out “what is the minimum I will take to continue” partially because I think it is a waste of time – together, we should be able to raise enough to sustain this system / site. The site will continue in a worst case scenario. I will do less than I used to do but all the progress made with the site’s infrastructure and efficiency tools will make maintaining the site at my old expectations much easier.

    I have not depleted my savings yet so I do not “need” anything immediately but having a buffer would certainly be a nice stress reliever. A good immediate buffer is $20,000. Some of this buffer would be used to go to Lyon so I could meet with athletes, national and WMA representatives – huge progress will be made on this trip.

    My annual operating budget ranged from 5 – 8 full time staff and all the support (IT, equipment, etc.). This is frankly a wild guess as I do not know all the challenges to implementing the plan. The plan I have is also tiered to adjust to the funding secured.

    My apologies for the vague information above. There are so many facets that it would take so much to put here and almost everyone’s head spins when they start to go through all the plans, system components, etc.

  8. MastersRankings - June 21, 2015

    Milan, Yes, there are many grants that may support this effort. I cannot do it all and certainly welcome any and all help to secure funding, including grants.

  9. Jason Purcell - June 22, 2015

    I’m not very tech savvy but is there a way to have us log on to the site? I would be happy to pay for an annual membership like I do for USATF. It may not cover all the costs but it can’t hurt. It is a luxury I can afford.

  10. EM - June 22, 2015

    With the amount of internet traffic, it would seem revenue could be gathered from site visits. Also, like Flotrack and other online entities, a premium membership might be another way to generate income.

  11. Christa Bortignon - June 23, 2015

    I agree with EM and all users could pay an annual
    membership fee of $10 or $20. That would go a long way.
    John does such a great job.

  12. Ken Stone - June 23, 2015

    Not liking idea of paywall. Site should be public for journalists to research athletes. Media coverage of masters is pathetic enough as it is.

  13. Jim P - June 24, 2015

    I feel the clubs need to get involved in supporting this great resource! Asking for an optional contribution when renewing memberships would be one way. The money would then be passed on to John. The same with registering for a meet. I always like to contribute to the “officials fund.” This would be no different. I fully understand this would present more work for volunteers but the rankings make masters track and field an international community and deserve support. When people have their checkbooks open is good time to ask. I will be approaching my club about this idea.

  14. Tom Phillips - June 26, 2015

    What I don’t understand is why results from Great Britain’s excellent “Power of Ten” rankings don’t feature in the European material on the MastersRankings site. I have a personal interest in this, of course!

  15. MastersRankings - June 26, 2015

    Tom, There are a little less than 13,000 results in the system that came from the Power of 10. All these results came from someone taking the information from their site, converting it to the format I use to insert into the MastersRankings system. It would be so much better if they would collaborate by providing periodic exports from their system (this is a standard means for separate databases to get in sync and something we use to keep other nation’s lists up-to-date). Would you compel them to collaborate with me so the UK can be accurately represented in the European and world rankings?

  16. Tom Phillips - June 27, 2015

    I don’t have any very useful contacts amongst those responsible for the Power of 10 system, sadly, so I have no power to “compel” anyone to do anything. I’m just very disappointed to hear that they’re not collaborating. I suspect, like much else in these areas, Masters don’t feature high in their priorities.

  17. MastersRankings - June 28, 2015

    Tom, recent improvements facilitate getting the Power of 10 results into the rankings. Anyone can help copy and paste into a simple form on the rankings site (athleticsrankings.com/results.php). This is a big help for anyone to use this form for all meets as it gets the meet information, meet results website and complete results in one spot for processing into the rankings. The Power of 10 results can be processed really fast when this form is used correctly.

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