Downhill and enduro racer Lewis Buchanan raised a few eyebrows with his announcement that he was adding OnlyFans – better known for its porn channels – to his sponsor list. Our publisher, Mark, looks at whether we should be so surprised.
OnlyFans.com attracted 333 million users in December alone! (source: Semrush) which makes it one of the world’s biggest websites. When you consider that the bulk of that traffic is from users who are paying money to creators to view their content it becomes pretty clear just how lucrative the OnlyFans business is. In fact statista.com reports that in 2022 OnlyFans generated revenues of $2.5 BILLION.
OnlyFans.com origins & history
Although it’s still synonymous with porn, to be fair, OnlyFans wasn’t invented to provide a subscription service to porn stars – it was created in 2016 by British businessman Tim Stokely, funded by a £10k loan from his dad, to simply provide content creators with a subscription space for exclusive content – It just kind of happened to be a natural fit for creators who wanted to reveal a whole lot more – that was an avenue that really exploded after a 75% takeover of the company in 2018 by Ukranian-American businessman Leonid Radvinsky who really went to town on the NSFW angle. However, that kind of business model does not get by without attracting a lot of flak from critics who wished it didn’t exist – just like the porn industry at large – and that has not been an easy ride for the OnlyFans business.
In August 2021 the US Congress launched an investigation into OnlyFans and their lack of safeguards against under age access and content. Shortly thereafter OnlyFans announced that they were kicking porn off their platform entirely in a very much out of the blue announcement. It was subsequently revealed that the principal reason for this sudden move was that the main payment providers for the company’s paywall system, spooked by the US Congress investigation, threatened to cut off all services if they didn’t act. That decision was, however, rolled back just six days later when it looked like the business would simply not survive without the grot.
The company seemingly made undisclosed concessions to the card giants (Mastercard & Visa et al) that got them off the hook. There was also a huge backlash from sex workers and their paying fans who argued that it provided a safe space for sex workers to operate and they were being put at risk once more without the service – although how much of that argument was a consideration next to the rather existential threat of simply not being able to process any customer payments I’ll leave to your own speculation.
Even though this brought the company back to square one, it was clear that the owners were generally not happy with their rep as a porn platform (perhaps, as seems likely, the card payment companies threats of execution were merely stayed pending future changes?), and so they began a less knee-jerk response and a more strategic attempt at transitioning the OnlyFans brand away from porn. And that brings us to the last 12 months that has seen the company make attempts at sponsorship within the sports sector as well as others – cooking shows for example, are apparently a thing on OnlyFans too, although judging by the appearance of the women, it must be really quite warm in those kitchens.
So, is this sportswashing by a porn company? Probably not, at least in my view. Will it work though and will OnlyFans manage to shake off its porn label as a brand? Don’t underestimate the power of the human race’s appetite for sex and while OnlyFans continues to be a home for the streaming porn industry I very much doubt that label will fade. It’s entirely feasible that the plan is to transition as many sports opportunities as they can over to the platform and THEN jettison the porn, but that is a tough rebranding mission for sure and whether the owners are prepared to give up what is clearly a hugely profitable revenue stream in order to clean up their reputation is entirely down to them and what they want their legacy to be. I suspect that money may well be the one doing the talking here.
The Paywall Model
OnlyFans is all about the paywall. Creators make content and their fans pay the creator to get through the paywall to access it. We are all familiar with the concept – we have one too for our full members. Content is expensive and it needs to be paid for. Traditional publishers, like ourselves at Singletrackworld, have transitioned from the classic model of content is free to read but paid for by advertising around it, to a hybrid model of some content is free but some is paywalled. Publishers aren’t being greedy in the main, it’s just a reflection of the fact that advertising doesn’t pay what it used to, but content is ever more expensive to create.
But that’s the publishers’ story. Social media has turned everyone into a potential creator and there are many who have grown huge audiences – bigger than most media companies – but they don’t have access to the advertising tools and systems to be able to generate revenue that way. That side of the operation is monopolised by the social media platforms that the creators use to distribute their content. So, the only real sources of revenue for creators is to paywall themselves and ask fans to pay. There’s also the murky world of the influencer industry, but that doesn’t come without risk and small players, well, they don’t get to play.
So what about Lewis Buchanan?
Enter the OnlyFans model. You can get started monetising yourself from day one. Of course you need fans to pay to see your content but at least there’s a relatively risk free model from the start for any budding creator. Into that mix we now have the sponsored creators like Lewis Buchanan.
I wanted to see what was on offer on his channel and so I registered for an OnlyFans account to find out (Yes, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). It turns out that Lew’s OnlyFans account is free to access. There’s no charge to get through his paywall. However (and this is the clever bit), you need to 1: Register for an OnlyFans account and 2: You need to register a payment card on your account before you can access any creators content, even if that creator’s account is set to free. You won’t be charged for accessing the account of Lewis Buchanan or any other sponsored athlete currently, but of course, if you did want to access say, a paywalled account that exists on the platform, your card is ready and waiting and access is just a click away.
Sportswashing? No. A clever marketing tool to attract people to the platform who would not otherwise sign up? Most certainly.
What is Lewis putting on his channel? I don’t actually know as that requires that I add my payment details to my account and I’m not quite ready to do that just yet. And finally, if your partner wonders why you have OnlyFans in your search history then you can at least point them at this article. You’re welcome.
Some sponsored athletes & sports on OnlyFans
- Lewis Buchanan – MTB
- Andy Ruiz Jr – Boxer
- OnlyFans Sponsor 24 hr motor racing
- Derek Chisora – Boxer
- Logan Karnow – MX Racing
- Liverpool FC – Football
- Jase Kessler – MX
Have you spotted any other appearances of the OnlyFans logo where you weren’t expecting it? Let us know in the comments.
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