Listening to the Hokies over the Internet now going to cost
By Jimmy Robertson
August 20, 2003

The excitement for the football opener to the 2003 season continues to build with each and every event that leads up to kickoff. From the first day of practice to the Outback Steakhouse Welcome Back Picnic to Tech's media day to the first scrimmage, the excitement is ascending as the Hokies gear up for the opener Aug. 31st against UCF.

That chain of events also includes the first seasonal airing of the Advance Auto Parts Hokie Hotline at Beamer's restaurant on Monday nights, with Voice of the Hokies Bill Roth, Tech AD Jim Weaver and head coach Frank Beamer. For some Tech fans - some, not all - this Monday night's airing may mark the final time Tech fans get to listen for free over the Internet.

Local and regional fans take listening to the show over the airwaves for granted, simply tuning their radios into a local affiliate that airs the show and turning up the volume. But for fans in the far reaches of this nation and overseas, they have to log on to hokiesports.com to listen and they have come to rely on this manner as the only way to keep abreast on news of their favorite athletics team.

Now, that will come with a price. Starting with the season opener against UCF, Yahoo, the provider of the service, and International Sports Properties, the company that markets Virginia Tech athletics, will charge $4.95 per month, or $29.95 per year, for listening to the Hokie Hotline and to Tech's football and basketball games over the Internet. This follows along the lines of what Major League Baseball, the NHL and the NBA do.

Subscribers may subscribe to their favorite team's programming on the "School Pass" package on a monthly or annual basis. This is intended to satisfy the fan who may be interested in only one sport (e.g., football for three months) as well as the fan who wants to receive all programming available. The annual subscription cost will involve a savings over a month-by-month subscription.

Each subscriber will also be able to add the overall "College Pack" option which will include nearly 40 additional major college athletic programs for a monthly or annual fee ($9.95 per month; $29.95).

"Free audio service on the Internet is no longer available through dependable providers such as Yahoo," said Mike Wolfert, ISP's general manager of Tech's marketing operation. "We were fortunate to have free Internet audio service in the past years, even though last year, more than 50 athletics programs and many professional organizations were already using a subscription plan.

"The cost to continue to provide this service would have been in the thousands of dollars and we feel this plan is a fair one to the consumer in that the pricing is certainly affordable and there are choices available. We will evaluate the plan after the 2003-2004 season, but we are confident that this is the best solution at this time."

This, unfairly or not, represents the continuing evolution of communications. Less than 100 years ago, the only way to listen to a sporting event was to pull a chair next to the radio. Then one could make a phone call and listen to a game that way, provided that person doled out the cash for the long-distance call. Next, the advent of the television arrived and then came the Internet, which features things like 'real audio,' 'live webcasts' and 'video streaming.'

HokieTV may be the answer for Tech fans
Currently, the staff in the hokiesports.com office is working on technologies to show the Hokie Hotline - video, with audio - live on their website via video and audio streaming. In fact, the staff only needs to procure a high-speed Internet line at Beamer's restaurant, which they tried to do well in advance of the first Hokie Hotline and failed after several telecommunications companies gave them inaccurate installation dates. But it will happen eventually, and more importantly, the staff and the Virginia Tech athletics department plan on offering this free of charge. They also plan on showing press conferences and postgame interviews live over the Internet and doing this free of charge as well.

Of course, the Tech athletics department won't be able to stream actual games live on the Internet. All but one of Tech's games are expected to be televised this season, and the networks airing the game holds the rights to it. Besides, few would watch over the Internet anyway, given a choice of television versus computer.

One also needs a high-speed connection to be able to watch the Hotline show and press conferences - lower speed connections will be able to receive audio only on the Hokie Hotline. But with the Internet becoming more and more popular, more and more people are getting high-speed connections through their local cable companies.

The hokiesports.com staff already has archived the Aug. 18th edition of the Hokie Hotline on HokieTV. Internet users can simply go to the HokieTV.com and click on the link. Live versions of the show will be coming soon. More importantly, all of this will be free.

And with the season rapidly approaching, that's what a lot of faraway Hokies want to hear.