Tarnished Twenty- The FindLaw Sports Law Blog

September 2009 Archives

Yesterday we looked at how the Southeastern Conference, the NFL, and professional tennis were attempting to impose limits on the use of social media by pretty much every group associated with sports -- players, team and league employees, media outlets, and even fans. Today, we examine 3 reasons that those policies are a losing effort.

1. Fighting consumer demand for new technology never works. The TV industry has tried fighting TiVo and YouTube. The music industry is coming up on a decade of flailing away against overwhelming consumer demand for digital music downloads. Movies may be starting to feel a "Twitter effect" from near-instantaneous reviews of films.

Add sports to that list of entertainment industries that cannot escape the grip of new media technologies. Social media is here to stay, in one form or another, and its use will only become more widespread. Being a fan is an inherently social experience, and fans have flocked to places like Facebook and Twitter as new means of sharing their joy and heartbreak. It's only a matter of time before someone starts going to Yankees games and tweeting every pitch -- and there will be an audience for it.
In this, the year of Twitter's explosion and Facebook's ascendancy, it's inevitable that everywhere we look, old institutions are going to be struggling to figure out how to deal with new media. Professional and big-time college sports are no exception, as numerous sports organizations are trying, with mixed results, to implement some kind of social-media policy.

The policies seem to be fueled by a number of different concerns. Today we'll look at three recent attempts to address social media use, and tomorrow we will examine why restrictive social media policies in the sports world are doomed to failure.

Southeastern Conference: The SEC wants to be hip to social media (see the prominent links on the SEC homepage to its Twitter and Facebook pages), but stumbled badly this month when it informed its member universities of its planned social media policy. Fresh off signing a new and lucrative deal for CBS to broadcast its football games, the conference aimed to protect CBS' rights by declaring, according to Mashable, that ticketed fans could not "produce or disseminate (or aid in producing or disseminating) any material or information about the Event, including, but not limited to, any account, description, picture, video, audio, reproduction or other information concerning the Event."

Translation: no tweets, blog entries, Flickr photos, or YouTube video of football games. Taken literally, this policy might actually forbid fans from even talking about the game with friends.

The SEC backed off the next day, emphasizing that non-commercial descriptions of games by fans would be fine, as long as they did not act as a substitute for radio, television, or video coverage. Still, it took a real pounding in the blogosphere for the conference to change its mind.

Pro Tennis: Did you know that pro tennis (comprised of the men's and women's pro tours, the International Tennis Federation, and the Grand Slam Committee) has a Tennis Integrity Unit?