Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The SEC and the Future of College Football Coverage

A battle over the future of media coverage in college football is being fought in the Southeastern Conference and the results will be felt in every stadium across America.

At issue is the SEC's new credential agreement, something each media organization must agree to before accepting press credentials. Those include:
  • No audio or video highlights on any newspaper websites (something the Lansing State Journal does regularly)
  • Time limits on photo and video use for everyone else
  • No archiving or selling game photos - but the SEC is allowed to do that with the media photos and keep the proceeds
  • No live blogging
Under a strict interpretation of rules like these, WLNS couldn't do a year in review of MSU football, the LSJ's photo shop would be sliced and diced and both the LSJ and Free Press' game day blogging operations would end. And rest assured, if the SEC gets away with this, there will be nothing to stop every other major conference from doing exactly the same thing.

It's not that schools want to restrict coverage. It's more that they want the media to pay for the privilege. Television and radio rights are very expensive, but there's nothing really like that for rights to highlights or print coverage. Live blogs, in some folks' eyes, take away the exclusivity of the live broadcast deals, and by blocking them the hope is that said deals will become even more exclusive (read: expensive). And who knows, maybe you could sell the live blogging rights?

But the new SEC credential rules haven't gone over well with some titans of media, like the Associated Press and Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper chain (Full disclosure: My former employer, the LSJ, is a Gannett paper). Both mammoth news organizations have refused to sign on so far, saying the rules are overly restrictive and onerous.

The move has teeth because Gannett owns some of the biggest papers in the SEC footprint. The (Nashville) Tennesseean, Louisville Courier-Journal, Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger and Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser are all Gannett papers - and I'm sure the folks at Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn want their biggest area papers to cover their games. And most of the other papers in the SEC's footprint, as well as most national sports websites, rely on the Associated Press feed for coverage.

Again, consider Michigan State as an example. Can you imagine gameday coverage with no Detroit Free Press, Lansing State Journal, or WZZM-TV (Grand Rapids)? All are Gannett properties. And just try reading about MSU on national websites like ESPN.com or CBSSports.com without the AP. Except for the biggest games, there would basically be the Detroit News, Booth Newspapers, local TV and nothing else. No Joe Rexrode, no Shannon Shelton, none of that.

The battle lines have been drawn. The SEC wants greater control of their games, and the ability to make more money off it. The media folks want to be able to control their coverage, understandable since they're paying people to cover games.

We'll be following this case, because whatever happens will have huge ramifications for college football teams and coverage across the nation.

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