Will Sports Teams Ban Cameraphones Next?

from the just-wondering dept

Earlier this year, we pointed out how professional sports leagues were having a really difficult time coping with new technologies, especially as they tried to sell “exclusive” coverage rights to a single media player for millions of dollars. Given how much these leagues think (often incorrectly) that they own anything associated with the game, we wondered whether the leagues would eventually ban you from describing the sporting event you were at. It’s a little extreme, but it followed the basic logic of everything else they’ve done. Adam Thierer is now talking about a controversy between the NFL and local broadcasters, after the NFL announced that broadcasters can only use official video from the game, rather than filming anything on their own, such as from the sidelines. This is, clearly, to boost their own bottom line in licensing the content, as well as making it seem more valuable for the “chosen” broadcaster to own all the rights. However, it’s incredibly short-sighted.

While Thierer goes back and forth on the legal issues (whether or not football stadiums are private or public places, for example), none of that really matters when you consider what a backwards policy it is. It may increase short-term revenue on the licensing side, but it likely limits the local coverage, and certainly removes more local interest coverage of issues that may not be covered by the “national” broadcast video. Thierer also raises the question of how this type of rule could make sense with changing technology. While it’s easy to block big bulky cameras — as camera technology gets better, how soon will it be until it’s impossible to keep out a decent camera? And what if something interesting happens that a fan films with a portable video camera or a cameraphone? Will a news station be barred from showing it because it’s not the “official” licensed clips? Sports leagues need to realize that they exist because of the fans, and a lot of those fans like to be more involved (sometimes a lot more) than just watching. Why not encourage everyone at the stadium, both professional and amateur, to record things, to share their own commentary and to get it spread around. It could help drive a lot more interest in the overall game — which is a lot better for the bottom line in the long run. Instead, they’re focused on maximizing one particular deal at the expense of everyone else.

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Comments on “Will Sports Teams Ban Cameraphones Next?”

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Geoffrey Kidd says:

This was predicted years ago.

By the “Tank McNamara” cartoon strip. A new owner takes over a major team and talks about a “revenue flash flood” including charging papers for taking photos of “his” team, etc. High point of the strip was his plan to put boxes at water coolers all over the city and have people drop quarters in them whenever they discuss his team. “It’ll be on the honor system … at first.”

TVNews says:

Keep it up...

So how loudly would the NFL and their teams howl if their local TV folks suddenly walked away from them Imagine, all the stations in the team’s home market completely ignoring anything to do with their NFL team.

Five years from now when no one can remember the name of their home team, maybe the NFL would ease up on their ridiculous demands.

Of course that will never happen. Someone in the market will cover the team, then they all have to do it.

Doug says:

No way in hell...

There’s no way in hell anyone is going to confiscate my phone. They can tell me to leave if they wish, but no one has any right to take your property.

On a second note, there’s no way in hell they could think this would work in thier favor. If major movie theatre chains haven’t forced the customer to pat-downs in hopes of finding video recording devices, there’s no way stadium personel would be able to handle the task.

And one thing off topic… I love how people worry about video game addiction and other digital “addiction”, but no one seems concerned when Nike tells us “Football is everything.” or when the New Orleans dome is repaired well before most of the housing is. Tells you how sad our society has become and how misplaced our priorities are.

Tyshaun says:

Tough talk sheeple!

I’ve read all the posts above talking about how there is no way the NFL should or could get away with it. I’m always impressed at how much techDirt readers overlook the “sheeple factor”. Sure some people would protest a new regulation banding recording devices and pciture/video cell phones at NFL games, but I would guess that most people willing to pay $50.00 to $400.00 to watch an NFL game will just accept it.

(sorry about the spelling, I’m using a laptop with slightly smaller than normal keys and really weird keyboard action)

You can say you can protest as much as you like but the trend is toward increased control of things like sports clips and the like, not less. The digital age in sci-fi fantasy land is a place where data runs free and is available to all, but here in capatilist USA the rule is to control and make a profit on anything you can get away with.

So, if you don’t like it be prepared to go to fewer sporting events (or movies for that matter, my local theater already restricts recording devices and cell phones not turned off, uses night-vision goggles to check for compliance, and does escort customers out).

Sanguine Dream says:

This isn't the Civil Rights Movement...

I think it’s pretty naive that everytime an issue comes up people just say they will boycott and protest. If that were the case there wouldn’t be thousands of troops protecting American oil intersests in the war on terror.

But back on topic. I guess its a good thing I lost interest in most pro sports a few years back and I only follow the NFL now because I’m in a fantasy league with some of my co-workers. What I wanna know is how a guy can get paid almost a millioni a year to play a sport when you got cops that put themselves on the line everyday barely making ends meet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This isn't the Civil Rights Movement...

What I wanna know is how a guy can get paid almost a millioni a year to play a sport when you got cops that put themselves on the line everyday barely making ends meet.

Thats a simple answer: Many people want to see the athlete, and are willing to pay for it. While with the cops, firefighters, etc no no want to see them and no one cares till they need the services of a civil servant.

The Game Is Control says:

TechDirt wrote: “This is, clearly, to boost their own bottom line in licensing the content, as well as making it seem more valuable for the “chosen” broadcaster to own all the rights.”

No. That’s only a symptom.

The goal is total control.

Once you have total control, control over content licensing fees is inherent.

But you also have another REALLY NICE feature inherently built in.

You are the GATEKEEPER (mass-media jargon here) that controls what content goes in and what content goes out.

Imagine a Super Bowl game involving a play where a quarterback ALMOST reaches and puts the ball into the end zone but doesn’t quite make it…. or does he?

Yes, I’m talking about the last Super Bowl.

If only NFL cameras are allowed, then the NFL can control what pictures — what “proof” — is released to the general public.

The NFL can then use the photogs to overturn a bad call — or not. They can release the photos/video to make their point — or they can not, and just let the world take their word.

In other words, once the NFL has TOTAL CONTROL over content on and from the field…


Imagine the insider bets the NFL can place knowing that games can be fixed or at least “bent” to adhere to their will and to the benefit of whatever bet they’ve placed with their brother’s bookie Guido in Vegas. I’m not talking $100 football pools, I’m talking umpa-million-dollar fraud.

Except it won’t be fraud. It’ll all be legally licensed events from the NFL, which will consider itself the “leading company in the football entertainment industry” and they’ll be hiring tobacco-company executives who will start spouting how the NFL never directly told anyone that U.S. football was any more real than WWF wresting, that no fraud ever existed because it was always ENTERTAINMENT.

And yeah, to the comment about Tank McNamara and putting a quarter in the box every time you talk sports … i think there’s also going to be a thing where every time you have a dream about sports, or daydream and have a memory of a good game you saw, that’ll be a dime in the box. On the honor system of course, at least for now.

The Game Is Control says:

Re: Oh and one more thing

Rent-a-pig: “Excuse me sir, may I see your NFL license for that?”

Raving fan: “Huh?”

Rent-a-pig: “Your NFL license, sir. You can’t come in the stadium like that unless you are licensed by the NFL to use their team image.”

Raving fan: “What the hell are you talking about?”

Rent-a-pig: “See that shirtless man over there with his face and chest painted blue? He’s a season ticket holder, but I have to ask him for his NFL license every time he comes in, just to make sure his bi-monthly dues are up-to-date. Otherwise he can’t come in here; we can’t let people paint themselves in team colors and reflecting the team’s image unless they’re properly licensed.”

Raving fan: “Why the hell not?”

Rent-a-pig: “Simple, really. We need to make sure that the team’s image is protected. I mean, how many times have you been to a football game and you see some wannabee fan painted in bright blue paint instead of the team’s royal blue color? It presents entirely the wrong image, and the team has spent millions to build up that image. We can’t have a joe coming in here with substandard paint and ruining that image in one night. I mean imagine what would happen if we were on Monday Night Football and the TV cameras would show a shot of the stands and they see a guy in bright blue paint instead of royal blue paint? It could cause the team’s marketing plans to be ruined for the next two seasons.”

Raving fan: “Ok, okay, I get your point about the paint, and I guess that seems like a good thing. If I’d spent all that money on marketing, I’d want to protect my marketing rights, too.”

Rent-a-cop: “I’m glad you understand sir, I’m just doing my job.”

Raving fan: “Umm… no, I don’t understand. I’m not wearing any paint today at all. Are you telling me I’m not allowed in unless I go shirtless and paint my body royal blue?”

Rent-a-cop: “No sir, not at all. Just your sweatshirt.”

Raving fan: “You have to be kidding! I bought this at the team store, right here in this very stadium, only last year! I’ve worn it to every game and no one’s ever complained before. I wear it every game for luck… I can’t believe…”

Rent-a-cop: “That’s just it, sir. The royal blue is faded from wear. It looks more like bright blue now. I’m sure you understand. But look on the bright side, there’s still 15 minutes until the game starts, and the team store you spoke of is still there. If you go and buy a new royal blue sweatshirt, you’ll still have plenty of time to make it back up here and see the kickoff.”

Twigboy says:

Control. You must learn control!

This really boils down to controlling the message. Suppose a former local high-school star comes to town on the opposing team. Now if this were a quarterback or one of the skill positions, there is plenty of video. But let’s say he’s a defensive lineman. The national broadcaster and NFL Films will not provide the isolation shots that you need. (Well, anything I suppose could be done for money, but certainly not worth it for a 90-minute package on the evening news.) Therefore, the story about the former high-school phenom is restricted to a ridiculous spot-shadow to highlight the player from the other 22 occupying the screen.

Meanwhile, still photographers are not under the same restrictions. All this because some sideline video wound up on the Internet (not sure if it was raw footage or footage within the context of a news report).

So while boycotting may not be effective, stories will get undercovered and uncovered. It will always be about the star and nothing else, which is contrary to what they preach.

Anonymous Coward says:

Been to an NFL game lately? The number of (still) cameras in the stands is HUGE. From watching all sections, flashes across the stadium, etc. I’d estimate that somewhere more than 25% have a camera. If you count obvious couple or group with one camera appropriately, the number may be more like 2/3rd to 3/4.

Taking pictures is an important part of the fan experience for lots of folks. Even though the original comments talked about video, camera phone (real time), etc., etc. it is very unlikely that any kind of rule or enforcement could be effective in stopping one kind of photography. Too many cameras that look like still can now take video, bluetooth to a phone, etc.

If the NFL tries a ban, they will have an uprising from “joe average” fan. Way too many folks find their personal phots a very important part of the game experience.

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