Tuesday, August 7, 2007

NFL Coverage You Can't See and Hear

In a bit of inside baseball but covering football, there's a battle going on away from the gridiron that will impact the type of coverage you'll see on websites all across the country, including AkronNewsNow. The NFL and the franchise teams, including the Cleveland Browns, have imposed rules on coverage that severely restrict just how much reporting we'll be able to do on your favorite team.

The problem isn't with radio, TV, newspaper or web-only reporting sources; the NFL has decreed that in order to spur traffic to their own websites (league and team) we aren't permitted to play audio or video clips longer than 45 seconds, total, and that only covers a 24-hour period. This effectively means any interviews we do on training camp grounds or even game-day coverage from the stadiums during the exhibition and regular seasons must, by NFL ruling, be removed from our websites the next day.

No more going to AkronNewsNow, WKYC, WEWS, WJW, WOIO, the Beacon Journal, Plain Dealer, or Canton Repository websites to not only read Romeo's wisdom but also to hear and see your favorite player. In fact, web sites such as AkronNewsNow have been informed by the Browns that we aren't even permitted to take photographs during games to augment our coverage on the web.

We think this is ridiculous, echoing comments from just about every other major news organization including the Radio Television News Directors Association, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and scores of other media outlets. The Houston Chronicle's football beat reporter for their website even produced a video highlighting just how foolish the 45 second rule is.

WATCH the Chronicle's team try to make sense of the NFL guidelines

We agree with these and other media outlets that these restrictions are unparalleled in the coverage of news and sports, and in fact is a direct affront to the rights of our respective readers, listeners, viewers and web visitors to learn more about the teams that play in palaces funded, in large measure, because of the largess of local government and local taxpayers.

It's why you won't see web video or hear web audio reports, even from the locker room, unless media organizations break the rule and risk losing the credentials needed to cover the games. It's why you won't be able to revisit coverage with web video or web audio to watch or listen again to a coach or player more than a day after the game. You won't, that is, unless you go to the league or team sites. Is that the coverage you'll fully trust as independent?

This is a disturbing trend in sports; the NFL has been the most aggressive in pursuing these policies but don't be surprised to see the other leagues pay very close attention as the digital age pushes them to weigh commercial considerations above the interests of the fans.

A cynic would note this is only the logical extension for professional leagues where sports is a sidebar to marketing. I wish I weren't such a cynic.

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