What happened to the Hokie Football Annual?

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Editor’s Note: Some of you have been asking about the Hokie Football Annual.  Here’s the information, straight from the horse’s mouth: Chris Colston.

Perhaps some of you are wondering why you haven’t seen the Hokie Football Annual on newsstands anywhere, or advertised on TechSideline.com. There’s a good reason for that.

There isn’t one. Not this year, anyway.

Since the Hokie Football Annual (HFA) was so well received by fans and media, I suppose I should explain the reasons for this decision. What it comes down to are three things: Perception, timing—and, of course, money.

PERCEPTION

From Day One, numerous fans confused the HFA with Virginia Tech’s gameday program (same size, same professional look). But let’s face it: The football program, priced at $5, was mostly an ad-packed souvenir, not a source for “inside news.”

And here I was, selling something that looked just like the game program—at double the price.

It didn’t matter if it contained great inside information and content. The perception was there.

I hoped—in time—I could overcome that perception. Especially since a lot of the people who took the time to actually read the HFA loved it.

Then, last year, it might have been around mid-August, I was scanning one of the football website message boards. I came across a reader who had posted kind words for the HFA; he’d found a lot of background information in it he hadn’t seen anywhere else.

Another reader thanked him for the post. He had figured a “preseason magazine” like the HFA wouldn’t provide any news he couldn’t already find online.

It was just one post, but it revealed the other perception I’d been fighting—that the HFA was no different from the myriad, ad-filled, cheaper national preseason magazines proliferating the market, and that the late-breaking news and inside analysis could already be found on great sites like TechSideline.com (which, of course, is true).

The post sent a message to me, and the message was this: In effect, I was trying to sell filet mignon from a McDonald’s. (Not that there’s anything wrong with McDonald’s; I had lunch there yesterday. Their iced coffee is actually pretty good.)

TIMING

One of the big problems with the HFA was the limited window I had to sell it. Depending on my printing schedule, I had basically four months: May, June, July, and August. Yes, I had over 400 retail outlets selling the HFA, but my two biggest ones were in Blacksburg, which is a quiet place during those summer months. There are no IMG radio broadcasts or TV shows in the summer, and internet traffic is slow. People are thinking about other things, like vacation.

One year I elected to print the HFA early and sell it Spring Game weekend. I sold a lot of copies. But to do that, I couldn’t update anything that happened during spring practice. If the starting quarterback when down with an ACL, I was in big trouble.

For the most part, I missed out on the huge crowds that came to Blacksburg on game weekends. By then, any hype for the upcoming season had been sated—not good for a product perceived as a “preseason publication.”

Most galling of all, every year I missed out on the biggest buying season of all: the holiday season from November to December.

MONEY

While I finally earned a net profit on the HFA in its third year, it wasn’t enough to justify the three-to-four months I had to commit to produce it. That meant I couldn’t work another job—and there aren’t a lot of companies that allow you take three- or four-month sabbaticals.

Because of the HFA’s format, advertising sales were important. But Virginia Tech’s marketing arm, IMG, dominates the Hokie advertising market. To fully maximize the HFA’s niche, I needed to be in Blacksburg year round, working the community as a member of the Chamber of Commerce, cultivating business relationships. That was something I simply couldn’t do from Herndon, Virginia, where I live with my wife and two children.

SO WHAT’S NEXT?

Through a series of books, my goal will be to deliver the definitive inside story on the rise of Virginia Tech football, from the 1980s under Bill Dooley to the Beamerball era. It will be behind-the-scenes, insider stuff, and the format will be anecdotal.

These books will tell the stories that don’t appear in newspapers or online, from the people who lived them. I’ll put it all in perspective with the authority of someone who has studied the program for over 40 years.

I think it’s a story that deserves to be told, and I hope to have the books  ready by the fall of 2014. (Yes, in time for the big crowds coming to Blacksburg for the games, and in time to make it a great holiday gift.)

This new format of “Chris Colston-style Hokie football writing” (gee, I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious) also affords me the opportunity to accept a full-time job with Ourisman Toyota in Fairfax. I love cars (my family believes in Toyotas) and I love talking to people, so it’s a natural fit. If you’re in the area, come by and say hello to me.  (Our general manager, Dan Doak, is also a Hokie graduate.)

And if you need a great deal on a new or pre-owned Toyota or Scion, please contact me. I will be sure you get taken care of, get treated right, and drive home happy.

So that’s it. To all of those who enjoyed and supported the HFA, I thank you. Producing the HFA was a labor of love and a wonderful experience.  I’ll keep you posted on the progress of the series, and I look forward to reaching out to you again in 2014.

In the meantime, Go Tech Go!

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11 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Chris, I thought it was great, bought it every year, bought extras for friends, highly recommended it to others. Sorry that it didn’t make it for various reasons. Maybe I should helped sell it door to door.

  2. CC
    Atta Boy!
    Don’t give up the Dream, just re-shape it a bit.
    Come see us at our tailgate this fall.

    BTW, Tigger and our gang will be in the ATL this weekend for THE UPSET!

  3. I’m sorry. I’ve bought the game program, and the HFA didn’t just beat it–it spanked it like a naughty child! (Or like VT vs UVA over most of the last decade plus!) I have all of them, and carried that season’s version with me on each trip to see a game. Not only were they such a great reference to settle pregame tailgate arguments, they were great for killing the time when I was always the one to get there early to preserve the “good spot” in the parking lot (HFA + Bloody Mary 6 hours before kickoff–GREAT combination!). I was sad when I was in the Bookstore two weeks ago, and couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t find a copy of this year’s version, nor had I seen any ads at this site. After asking the staff there, and waiting through multiple phone calls through their management, I was told “Sorry–he didn’t do one this year.” Apparently, I looked like the kid who just found out there was no Santa Claus. 🙁 However, having put one child through college already with another in his sophomore year, I can REALLY appreciate putting the family first, and “labors of love” have to take a backseat. That being said, I’ll treasure the copies I have–they were AWESOME! Good luck in your other endeavors.

  4. If fans want to know what’s going on with Tech sports, especially football, they should subscribe to TSL. It certainly has provided me with a better understanding of what is going on. A bargain for sure.

  5. 🙁 for two of the three years you published the HFA, it was my father’s day gift. What better holiday is there to get you favorite sport’s teams best Annual Magazine. I would bring it on our family beach trip and have the whole thing read, cover to cover, by the time we left to go home. I even ordered a back issue for the missing season to complete my collection (thanks for the personal note and signing on the inside cover :-). I definitely missed it this year, and will miss it for the years to come. I completely understand though. Thanks Chris.

  6. I hear you Chris. I tried my luck @ a VT business making wooden wall signs featuring the ‘VT’ logo. I displayed @ many Hokie Club and Alumni event and only had luck selling when I dropped the price below my cost. I was not allowed to sell on campus for football games, so I tried EBay and Craig’s List and had no sales at all. So, after losing 3 grand, I also decided to give up my sure fire Hokie idea.

    All we can say now – we both gave it a try and hopefully learn something during the process. Best of luck in your new career!

    Go HOKIES!

  7. Chris, I would release one book per year until the series is complete. That way, you keep the customers wanting more and create sales yearly. Just a thought.

  8. REALLY looking forward to the books. Good luck in the car business, hope all the hokies in the area will keep you in mind and remember and appreciate when the HFA (and previously the Huddler, right?) were the only resources we had.

  9. Chris, I too enjoyed the HFA, and have a small collection that stays on my coffee table. Living in Houston now means I watch a lot of games from my living room and I enjoyed looking up stats, jersey numbers, etc. in a real book vs. the iPad. Thanks for the work… you may have a market for your old copies as collector’s items now.

  10. Chris, thanks for the update. I enjoyed your HFA’s and was wondering about this year. I know it was a labor of love for you, but love doesn’t put food on tha table! Looking forward to the books, and seeing you at the tailgate! GO HOKIES!

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