Okay, don't get mad at me. I'm giving you a choice here.
If you want to read more about the ever-evolving relationship between pro sports, the Old Media (television and print journalism) and the New Media (anything on the Internet, pretty much), then please click through.
If you don't want to read more about that, and pretty much hate me for daring to discuss anything other than how awesome Peter Forsberg is (seriously, 11 points in 8 games!), then just skip it and don't click through.
I'm giving you the choice. Don't get all bent out of shape.
Okay, now we're alone.
Uniwatch linked to a really interesting article about the developing battle between Major League Baseball and the traditional journalistic outlets that cover the teams. MLB is worried that since print outlets now have web sites and their own watered-down, board room-approved versions of blogs, and MLB has online content of their own, that they're now in direct competition with the very people they've relied on for media coverage in the past.
The Internet has allowed sports teams and leagues to set up their own media properties that now compete for audiences and advertising revenues with the very media sports franchises used to rely on for coverage. As a result, the major sports leagues are increasingly tightening control over the coverage of their games in an effort to preserve the most valuable content for their own use.
Again, the media are balking at the idea of being pushed aside.
"They didn't print newspapers and we did that, so we weren't competitors. Now, we have Web sites, they have Web sites and so they view us as competitors," said John Cherwa, chair of the legal affairs committee for the Associated Press Sports Editors.
This wouldn't be an issue if major league teams (not just in baseball) weren't selling advertising on their web sites. But they are, and so they want to maximize their web traffic in order to increase their ad revenues. That's pretty reasonable. Unfortunately, the teams fear that allowing press access to photos, stats, and other information freely available from their site, people won't go to the team site for that same info. They'll go to the traditional outlets they've always relied on for info.
Baseball's new guidelines are mostly the same as in any other year: a one-page document that reporters, photographers and editors would typically sign as a matter of procedure to obtain press passes. But this year came important differences: photo galleries could no longer include more than seven pictures. Web sites are limited to no more than two minutes of audio or video from any game and that content can stay up for no more than seven consecutive days.
Considering that the press keeps what is essentially a public record of everything (even things as ultimately unimportant as baseball scores), limiting the distribution of what amounts to an historical record to just seven days seems a bit ridiculous. And honestly, how much of a difference will those restrictions make?
But the part of the article that really caught my attention was this, for two reasons. One, because I'm a blogger, and two, because the event they referenced happened in my backyard:
Of lesser concern to the sports editors, Cherwa said, is a provision limiting bloggers to posting less frequently than once per half-inning.
The big leagues' blogging policy hasn't resulted in any credential revocations but an incident at a college baseball game last June showed how contentious blogging can be. A Louisville Courier-Journal reporter was thrown out of a game between the University of Louisville and Oklahoma State for posting live updates to his blog.
The NCAA later said live updates from its events are allowed, but must be limited to scores and how much time is left on the clock.
A little farther down, we finally see the reason why live blogging is such a no-no:
For instance, if a newspaper reporter updates his blog after every play, it could infringe on a league's play-by-play deal with a local broadcaster. Moreover, the newspaper's publisher would also be in competition for viewers and advertisers drawn to the same content.
If this topic wasn't so ultimately unimportant (to everyone not drawing a paycheck from pro sports advertisers), it would be worth arguing about. But I'll do it anyway. I think it's important to identify a couple of the beliefs major league teams (and the NCAA) seem to hold about blogging and the Internet as sources of information:
- Live blogging is somehow a substitute or replacement for live radio or television broadcasts of games.
- Fans will only seek one source for all of their sports information, and will never take the time to visit multiple web outlets.
You can't equate blogging and the Internet with live radio and television coverage of sporting events. For one, DVR and TiVo notwhithstanding, you only get one chance to actually see or hear a game being played. Once it's over, it's over. And nothing can substitute for actually seeing and hearing the game yourself. Reading about it is fine if that's your only option, but if you have the chance to actually watch a game, would you turn it off and read the live blog instead? Of course not. So live blogging is no threat to the broadcast deals teams sign with traditional outlets.
As for the restriction of content to just one source (the team websites), it seems like another big misunderstanding. What true sports fan really just relies on a single Internet source for team information? In the past, if you wanted to read about a team, your only source was in newspapers and magazines. Now, you have virtually unlimited options.
In my daily Avalanche-tracking routine, I read two newspaper web sites, the team website, and at least four team-specific blogs (not including my own). I also check out more general sports blogs for Avalanche-related content as well. If a new site starts up with interesting content, I don't drop another from my list, I just add the new one. If it ends up that there are 43 great sources of Avalanche information on the Internet, I'll be sure to check all 43 great sources every day.
MLB and the other sports organizations are operating under outdated mindsets. Things have changed, and their fans have changed. The reason blogs have gotten so big and influential is because fans don't want to have to rely on just one or two sources for information. They want multiple sources, multiple viewpoints and multiple opinions. The teams can try to crack down all they want, but no matter how Orwellian they become, the fans will seek as many alternate sources for info as possible.
What the teams should do is expand the press and the bloggers' access even further. That only increases brand exposure and ultimately revenue. Why limit the number of outlets, especially since they're all essentially free advertising? How does that make any business sense whatsoever?