Media policy only will hurt SEC

jclay@herald-leader.com,JohnClayAugust 12, 2009 

John Clay

Big Blue Fan is in Commonwealth Stadium for the Kentucky-Florida game on Sept. 26 and Trevard Lindley has just intercepted Tim Tebow for the third time that afternoon.

Quickly, he pulls out a BlackBerry/iPhone and sends a text message to a friend:

"You're not going to believe this, Lindley just picked Tebow for the 3rd time!"

Congratulations, Mr. Big Blue Fan, you've just lost the right to buy another ticket.

Ridiculous? Of course. Plausible. Yes, if the Southeastern Conference has its way.

At issue is the league's new media policies, which since becoming public Friday have produced such a negative firestorm the league already is in its best Deion Sanders backpedal.

"I'm confident there will be some changes to the policy," Charles Bloom, the SEC's associate commissioner for media relations, told the Birmingham News.

Let's hope so.

In its original flawed form, the policy would severely restrict media outlets with regard to use of video, audio, photographs and digital descriptions in a manner that made the Birmingham home office appear to be a monolithic bastion of unmitigated greed.

After all, most of the new "guidelines" seemed to be pre-meditated attempts to drive audiences away from professional and personal Web sites and to the league's new SEC Digital Network, which is expected to debut Aug. 27.

Example: No media outlet would be allowed to post a video clip 72 hours after a game was completed.

Let's say UK running back Derrick Locke uncorks a 99-yard touchdown run against Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 5. Be sure to check it out by Sept. 8, because after that you could only find it at the SEC Digital Network.

Example: No Internet site would be allowed to post video or audio from SEC "events."

In other words, no blog, including my blog (John Clay's Sidelines) would be allowed to post audio from, let's say, Rich Brooks' weekly news conferences. That content would belong exclusively to the UK Athletics Web site and the SEC Digital Network.

Also outlawed would be any "real-time" descriptions of games, i.e. Twitter, and the league would hold the exclusive right to determine whether live blogs violated that "real-time" policy.

Ah, but the SEC doesn't stop there. It also wants to implement strict guidelines for the ticket-buying public.

Example: "No Bearer may 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, audio, reproduction, or other information concerning the Event, other than in speech that cannot be restricted under the First Amendment, in any form."

Want to post that cell-phone picture you snapped of the UK mascot on your Facebook page? Forget it. Want to tweet about Micah Johnson's fumble return for a touchdown? Not allowed. Want to call your mother in California to describe UK's upset of Alabama? Put that phone down.

True, those are the strictest interpretations of the rules, but the Orwellian way things are progressing, the league might just throw the book at a poor patron uploading a Mike Hartline picture to his Flickr account.

The SEC says it must "protect" its new contracts with ESPN and XOS Digital. Never mind that the SEC already is hands down, the nation's most lucrative collegiate conference.

But you have to wonder, too, if the league isn't trying to control what's out there.

Think the SEC Digital Network is going to post news conference audio of Lane Kiffin accusing Florida of cheating? Think it will show the video clip of a an official's blown call on a crucial play? Think the SEC Digital Network will produce any content that doesn't present the league in the best light?

And you also have to wonder if the conference isn't killing the goose that laid the golden egg. One powerful reason the SEC is the SEC is its fans' unbelievable passion for sports. Especially the sport of SEC football, a passion fed by the diligent coverage the league receives.

More and more of that coverage is provided in digital formats. The brave new world is here, with video, audio, blogs and live blogs, both professional and personal. To eliminate or restrict those forms is to help limit interest in the product.

That's not protection. That's overprotection. And that's never good.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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