Monday, September 24, 2007

The NFL and Media Control...

The National Football League is by far the richest and most successful of the major sports leagues in America. But as this USA Today article explains, the NFL is taking bold steps to increase its control over what type of media coverage is reported. This control grab is not only counter-productive when considering the financial bottom-line, but will also alienate fans and drive them away from the game.

In short, the NFL has set out new guidelines this year for how independent journalists may cover NFL-related events. This includes "interviews, news conferences and practice footage" - limiting journalists "to 45 seconds of video/audio clips a day of team personnel at team facilities".

The reason for this crackdown on journalistic coverage is that the league is trying to direct more traffic to its advertising-supported website, NFL.com, and to its subscriber-based satellite television channel, the NFL Network. They figure that limiting independent journalists to brief clips will make people that much more anxious to go to the official NFL website and subscribe to its satellite channel, where people could view much longer and comprehensive coverage of the NFL.

This case serves as an example of how attempting to increase control in the age of Digital Media is completely counter-productive. First of all, how many football fans were already outraged last season when Thursday night games of their favorite teams were not viewable unless somebody they knew subscribed to the NFL channel? More importantly, did that policy of exclusivity send anyone running to their satellite TV providers to immediately sign up? Not a chance. The NFL did more to alienate its fans with those NFL Network Thursday night games than it did to serve any type of market demand.

And there's no reason to believe the same won't be true with its website. By limiting how much football can be covered by ESPN, NBC, Sports Illustrated, etc., fans won't flock to the NFL.com website. They'll just get annoyed as hell, and it won't be long before full-length clips start being made available illegally all over the internet for download.

And let's not even discuss the merits of a free press and independent journalistic reporting, as compared to an Iranian-style system of granting The Official Message of the NFL such privileged status. One has to wonder if the league is doing all this to prevent so many stories reaching the public about its players' criminal activities (see Michael Vick, Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, etc.).

Ultimately, where does this leave us? By attempting to seize control over media coverage, the NFL will alienate devoted fans who cannot view their favorite teams on television anymore, and rather than collecting shared revenue with news agencies like ESPN and Sports Illustrated, they'll be pushing fans down the path of illegal downloading and won't receive any revenue at all.

There is an alternative. Look at what Major League Baseball has accomplished with its more open media policies. Over the last decade, baseball has made its product available to practically all-comers, and allows them to get creative and do almost whatever they wish - make their own highlight reels, edit and share them with others, to name just a few. As a result, baseball is generating tremendous revenue streams that didn't previously exist, and have become the model for how a major sports league can use the media and internet to market its product for them.

Think about it: they've actually been encouraging media coverage of its league, rather than penalizing it. Doesn't that sound logical?
  

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