Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Greed has trickled down to high school sports


There’s no other word for it.

More and more sports governing bodies want it all. They want free exposure on TV, print and online. They want to control the media. But, most of all, they want to control all revenue, wringing every penny for themselves -- even at the expense of losing essential publicity from news organizations.

The NFL would not be where it is today were not for all the free PR it has received through stories in newspapers, magazines, television and radio. That has resulted in billions of dollars for the league. Apparently, that is not enough. So the NFL created its own network, scheduling key games on this channel in order to force cable companies to add it to their menu. (Unless you have a satellite package, you will not see Green Bay take on Dallas on Thanksgiving.) Plus, the NFL limits video coverage on newspaper websites, believing this would cut into profits or would lure readers away from the NFL’s website.

The NCAA, concerned about profits from its TV contract, halted live blogging at a regional baseball game in Louisville last spring, believing the blogger would violate its TV contract (and that fans would turn away from the live broadcast to read a live blog. Ridiculous.)

Major League Baseball even attempted to stop a fantasy sports company from using player stats and names for its clients, something the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit denied in a ruling last month.

The greed has now trickled down to prep sports where the Illinois High School Association is attempting to limit coverage at its postseason events. The IHSA, apparently, has signed an agreement with Visual Image Photography, Inc., giving this company “exclusive and unlimited access to IHSA tournament locations and photo opportunities.” That means newspapers and TV stations cannot post photos of games on their websites, nor can they make these pictures available for sale to local readers. In order to cover these postseason games, newspapers are required to sign an agreement saying they will comply.

"It's very clear what this is about," said David L. Bennett, executive director of the Illinois Press Association. "After a century of supporting and promoting local school sports, newspapers have helped develop a market that the IHSA now wants for itself. We believe what they're doing is unlawful."

The Illinois Press Association calls this prior restraint. We know what it’s really called: greed. The IPA filed a lawsuit on Nov. 1 seeking to temporarily restrain the IHSA from implementing this agreement. The case went before a county circuit judge last week. Judge Patrick Kelley delayed ruling on the case to give both sides a chance to resolve the issue. Kelley apparently sides with newspapers on the issues. His stance on selling photos taken at games is unclear, though.

This agreement would have a chilling effect on news media. This could prevent readers from learning about games. Newspapers typically produce picture pages and post more pictures online for fans, players and family. If this agreement goes into effect, newspapers would not be able to post any photos online. Newspapers offer a cheap service. They send reporters and photographers to cover games, paying a salary, mileage, hotels and, perhaps, meals. For fifty cents, readers can then read all about these games. Cheaper yet, readers can go online to get most of this coverage for free. Not a bad deal. Much better than the one fans would receive from high school sports associations, governing bodies that, ostensibly, represent its state’s citizens. Perhaps, these same citizens should consider cutting funds to organizations like the IHSA, using it for more academic purposes – especially if this agreement passes.

"Newspapers inform readers in many ways, not just print on paper," says Springfield State-Journal Register publisher Sue Schmitt said. "The State Journal-Register has been a pioneer in the use of online photo galleries and multimedia presentations, all to better serve our readers. Our readers want copies of these photos and presentations because they want to hold onto the memory of their sons, their daughters, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, friends or teammates in action. The idea that access could be denied to our photographers if we refuse to seek the sanction of a quasi-governmental body to use our own work is unacceptable."

Unlike the NFL, state sports agencies like the IHSA, are funded by the state. Football is just business for the NFL. That’s not supposed to be the case in amateur sports played by unpaid teenagers. Public schools provide 85 percent of the IHSA’s membership. Perhaps, school districts should be pressured to withdraw from the IHSA if this agreement goes into effect. These schools can create their own sports organization, one that honors open access to events for those involved.

Hmmm. Perhaps, the kids should file suit, claiming they should also get some of this money. Were it not for them, there would be no sports event. Is the IHSA taking advantage of these kids, using them to make some extra money? Is this a violation of child labor laws, where kids are forced to travel late on school nights without any direct financial compensation? Yes, this might be a ridiculous argument. But so is the IHSA’s. Nobody should own the rights to a state-supported public event. There’s no profit in it for anybody.



Murley said...

Great post, Joe. Agree with you about all of it. Too bad the NCAA doesn't understand its roots in public funding as well.

AC said...

Go get'em Joe!

I have been tracking this issue also. Unfortunately this kind of thing is happening in other states also.

If you live in Arkansas and take a picture of your son in this weekend's state championship game, then none of your pictures will be yours by Monday. For that matter none of the video or audio you took will be yours either.

That is what the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) is claiming. The AAA is the sponsoring organization of championship games for public and private schools in the state of Arkansas.

For more info check out OffWing Photo where we started tracking this issue several days ago. This issue affects traditional press, online press, spectators, friends, and the families of the participants in state championships.

On Friday the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) decided to suspend their new photo policy just before the state football championships. The policy will be suspended until Dec. 1, giving all sides some time to work out a compromise.

I have read elsewhere that other states are considering similar actions but are watching what happens in Illinois and Arkansas.

Nick V said...

Speaking of ridiculous arguments, you should be aware that the IHSA is not funded by the state. It receives no state funds and no entry fees or membership fees from its schools. Their tournaments are self-supporting and not "state-funded".

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