On the heels of our report about the flagging influence of traditional news media comes a Washington Post story about the manner in which sports teams are scoring media coverage and protecting their brands.
Increasingly, professional, collegiate, and even high school sports teams are tightly controlling the way news about their team brands gets out to the public. In fact, many leagues, conferences and even teams have their own media operations. A lot of it has to do with the widespread availability of news and information via the Internet.
The issue at hand is the business value of sports news — as Disney and ESPN can attest, a goldmine to the brand that gets it right. Sports organizations have figured out that they can run their own news operations and attract both an audience and advertisers by doing so. Two good examples of this are the NFL and the NCAA.
The premier annual events run by those organizations, namely the NFL's Super Bowl and the NCAA's Final Four (with March Madness just getting underway), generate a huge revenue stream. Obviously, the organizations (and, by association, the teams they represent) want to control as much of that revenue as possible, so they cut lucrative deals with "exclusive" media networks. The same thing is true of individual sports teams who are interested in locking up their local markets.
That's why a baseball team like the New York Yankees, for example, started the YES (Yankees Entertainment & Sports) Network in 2002. The network, which operates as a regional television, radio and web sports network, is owned by a company that also owns the Yankees.
The Yankees, of course, are prominently featured, but the network also covers other New York area sports teams. Interestingly, the New York Nets professional basketball team originally co-owned YES, but when the team was sold it lost a stake in the Network. Now, the Nets and the YES Network are in arbitration over the Nets' contract with YES — the team reportedly wants more than the $10 million per year called for in the contract.
Sometimes, protectionism and exclusivity of a sports brand can get very picky. The NFL's Washington Redskins team is a case in point.
The Redskins "have been aggressive in policing the use and misuse of their 'brand' by others," says the Washington Post report. "For many years, the 'Redskins' name was used freely in the titles of local sports highlight shows on TV and radio. No longer. The team put an end to the practice several years ago, now only permitting 'authorized' uses of its name..."
In fact, the team asked the Post to change "Redskins Insider," the name of the newspaper's blog about the team. It is now called "Football Insider." Tony Wyllie, a spokesperson for the Redskins, told the Post, "we have to protect our name and our brand."
It is just as onerous on the college level. The Southeastern Conference (SEC), which is comprised of twelve universities, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and Tennessee, last year tried to restrict news organizations to only two online football game photos per game to be used only on one website, according to the Washington Post.
The conference later reneged after pressure from the media. Phil Kaplan, executive sports editor of the Knoxville, Tennessee-based News Sentinel, told the Post, "They thought they were the NFL. They were looking for ways to drive traffic to their Web sites. The thinking was, if we curtail the amount of content out there, people will have to go to ]the SEC's] Web site."
Now high school sports are getting in on it. In Wisconsin, media organizations that want to stream video of high school games need to pay money for a license from the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA).
While a group of media firms brought suit against WIAA on the basis of First Amendment rights, a federal district court sided with WIAA, stating, "Ultimately this is a case about commerce, not the right to a free press. The principal reason the WIAA granted an exclusive license to stream its games over the internet is not to promote discourse, but to create and grow an additional source of revenue."
At least for now, pretty much any U.S. sports team, professional or amateur, has the right to limit the media's access in the name of profit.