Sports Law Blog
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Thursday, August 09, 2007
Don't Print That! Teams and Leagues Limit Media Access to Boost Online Profits
Official websites for professional teams and leagues have become much more useful over the last few years. The days of those websites resembling bland, propaganda-style news sources are long gone. Just check out MLB.com, which, to me, seems like the best league website. Most usefully, it freely provides the gameday service, "a near-live streaming box score of baseball games," as well as plenty of other content that frequently brings readers back--and back they come, as MLB.com averages approximately 7 million hits a day. Many individual teams have developed good websites as well, sometimes delivering videos and photos that aren't available elsewhere. Others just look cool, like the website for the Portland Trailblazers, which offers a artistic display of their players.
Those websites are not only bringing in viewers, they are also bringing in money. Plenty of tickets, merchandise, and memorabilia are sold through team and league websites, as are exclusive services for readers willing to pay fees. Just consider how MLB Advanced Media, which is MLB's media and Internet company, has annual revenue of $400 million.
So as official websites for teams and leagues become more visited and lucrative, its not surprising that those teams and leagues are developing commercially-viable ways to directly inform fans, as opposed to (or in addition to) sharing a message with the media, which in turn shares it with fans, hoping to sell newspapers and local ad revenue in the process. Indeed, teams no longer have to rely on the local media to report on them in the next day's newspaper--teams can just post their story on their website, which the newspaper's website can immediately comment on, but so too can ESPN.com or a fan-run website, blog, message board, or related website. Sure, I still want to read the Boston Globe writing about about the Celtics possibly signing Reggie Miller in the next morning's newspaper, but I'm more likely to learn of that info from Celtics Blog or True Hoop, and to learn the moment the news becomes available.
None of this is really all that Earth-shattering. In a day and age when voters can directly ask presidential candidates questions in a televised debate, and where those same candidates can speak to voters through blogs rather than solely through the filter of the New York Times or Washington Post, the media's role has changed, with newsworthy persons better able to directly communicate to their own targeted audience.
But can teams and leagues go too far in essentially competing with the media? David Williams of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has an excellent column on this topic, particularly as it relates to the NFL trying to "control the message" and, in turn, make a lot of money. He interviewed me for the piece, and here are some excerpts from it:
The National Football League, in a move that would seem to steer traffic to its own NFL.com site, is limiting media outlets to 45 seconds of online audio and video from interviews and press conferences. The league also says the footage must be removed within 24 hours. [a topic Rick blogged about in September 2006]
For the rest of the column, click here. For related posts on Sports Law Blog, see Rick's The NFL's New Sideline Ban: Another League Effort to Control Content and Howard's More Speech Restrictions in Sports: The NCAA and Live-Blogging, New Sports Media v. Old Sports Media, and Credentialing Sports Bloggers. Also, Eric McErlain over on Off Wing also has an excellent post entitled The Final Cut on Media Credential Guidelines, while Beau Dure on USA Today's Sports Scope likewise has a great post entitled This NFL Photo Brought to You By . . .