September 20, 2002

Alienating Cornell's Diehard Fans

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I am a Cornell sports dork. It’s a prerequisite for this job.

Being a Cornell sports dork means that I visit at least once a day. So last week, I’m checking out said site when I caught a news item that probably floated under most of your radars.

“Cornell Launches Big Red Pass, Giving Fans the Ultimate in Big Red Programming.”

Wow! This sounded dynamic, new, thrilling, refreshing. I read on.

“Cornell Joins More Than 45 Top Colleges and Universities in Exciting New Digital Media Subscription Service.”

Exciting, indeed. But one word in that last sentence caught my eye: subscription.

In order to get a subscription, you have to pay. Such is the nature of a subscription.

A little skeptical now, I continued to read.

The basic idea of this news item is that internet broadcasts of Red sporting events are now available only by subscription. In other words, what was free last year is going to cost you now. And it will cost you $6.95 a month.

This is completely ridiculous. The function of this announcement was to herald the heretofore unheard of idea of charging to listen to Cornell sports online. But what this announcement really did was dress up some greed as a new exciting step for the athletic department and Red fans.

“By harnessing the best in both college and professional sports, we’re able to provide Big Red fans with the ultimate in sports programming from their own school and national sources — only available on RealOne.”

Frankly, that’s a load of crap.

The ultimate in sports programming for Cornell fans would be to be able to listen to their teams’ games for free, like they’ve done in the past.

In all honesty, the extras that now come along with a subscription would typically have a minuscule audience anyway. Weekly coaches’ shows, press conferences, video highlights, practice and postgame clips — the athletic department is kidding itself if it believes that these will be incentives to subscribe. The only thing that will encourage people to subscribe is a desire to listen to their team online.

True, this doesn’t affect those in the Ithaca area, who can listen to the games over the airwaves. However, say somebody wants to listen to the hockey team compete in the Everblades Classic from their home over winter break, as I did last year. Their option (assuming they’ve already used the 14-day free trial period) is to buy a three-month block at a “special” price of $18.95.

The general market for this subscription service is basically Cornell alums and families of the athletes. These groups should be able to afford a subscription. After all, they’re either already spending $30 grand a year on tuition or they have a Cornell degree and hopefully make enough to pay for the College Sports Pass.

This isn’t really about the money, though. It’s about the principle. The athletic department is alienating members of an already small fan base. How many alums (or even current students) do you know who ardently follow Cornell football and would listen to a game online, even if it were free?

The athletic department justifies the cost by saying that “what’s been offered free in the past should not be compared to the College Sports Pass product.”

This argument just doesn’t hold water. Nobody who subscribes would pay to hear the rest of the package. People just want game audio, and the only improvement in that category is better sound quality.

Another justification is that other schools will probably be using a similar subscription service in the future, and that Cornell is just ahead of the curve in offering such an “improved experience.”

Thanks, but I’d prefer if my school would stay behind the curve if it means keeping a service free.

If you’d like to read about this subscription program straight from the horse’s mouth (or ass), you can see for yourself what the athletic department is up to at

Then, when you’re done reading that, click on the “feedback” link at the bottom of the page and let the athletic department know what you think about this plan.

Cornell athletics should be finding ways to encourage listenership, loyalty, and attendance for their teams. This is a step in exactly the wrong direction.

Archived article by Alex Fineman