From a legal, media and fan perspective, the policy is short-sighted, inefficient, out of touch with new media, and, for the most part unlikely to be very effective. If you want to follow along, here's the policy.
So what does the new policy actually do?
At its most basic level, it seeks to better control content, that is SEC sports games and the events surrounding them, press conferences and the like. The new media policy seeks to do so by limiting all sports highlights to a 72-hour window after the game is over (with convenient exemptions built in for broadcast partners like ESPN and CBS), restricting the airing of pre- and post-game press conferences, and limiting fans and media from uploading content onto sites such as YouTube. So, instead of going to YouTube and being able to find footage of your favorite player or game, you'll be rotated through the respective school sites, or a central warehouse where, for a fee, you can watch these highlights.
If you think you shouldn't care, that this is only a media squabble between rights holders over who gets the bigger sack of money, you're wrong. Under the new policy fans are theoretically liable for tweeting, updating their Facebook pages, or posting photographs from inside a stadium.
Does this make sense?
Not really. Not at all.
Because the policy ignores the elephant in the room, that televised games in their entirety provide almost all of the actual value to any sporting product. Here are the five things it's important to take away from the SEC's misguided new policy.
1. The policy is designed to give fewer people control of a product that many want.
Quoth the policy, "No video or audio may be used other than for regularly scheduled newscast aired only by Bearer...within a 72 hour period after the Event, and no film or video clip used for such purposes shall exceed three minutes in length."
By restricting the play of game highlights, SEC media events and the like, the league is drawing a bright line in the red clay: Our national television partners are more important to us than the regional media. To hell with the guys who follow us through thick and thin, who show up in March to cover the ground-breaking of our new facilities. Come gametime, we're paving the way for the fly-by media, the big national guys who touch down in our fair cities for hours a year and bring the games to the nation. They're the ones we truly care about.
The SEC is becoming the first college to adopt the stringent content provisions chosen by Major League Baseball. It's why you can find comparatively few baseball highlights on YouTube. Only, and this is key, the SEC is not a professional sports league...yet.
Also -- and this is key -- how much money is the SEC possibly going to net from their digital rights package? Online properties represent a fraction of the television market. Pennies, if they're lucky, on the dollar. The SEC is alienating the people who make their television product worth billions of dollars so they can net a few million more a year for highlights. This is beyond nonsensical. It's restrictive, monopolistic, and just plain wrong.
2. Conferences do not understand how the Internet works.
Quoth the policy: "No Bearer may produce or disseminate in any form a 'real-time' description or transmission of the Event. Periodic updates of scores, statistics, or other brief descriptions of the competition or event throughout the Event are acceptable. Bearer agrees that the determination of whether a blog is a real-time description or transmission shall be made by the SEC in its sole discretion."
These are things that may not be allowed in a press box: live blogging, e-mailing, tweeting, talking on the radio, text messaging someone, updating your Facebook status. These are things that may be allowed in a press box: live blogging, e-mailing, tweeting, talking on the radio, text messaging someone, updating your Facebook status.
The fact that someone with a law degree (maybe?) drafted this language is a sure sign of old white man cluelessness. Either that or a sign that the client, in this case the SEC, has no idea what they're trying to instruct the lawyer to do. I'm inclined to guess the latter, if only to protect a fellow lawyer from malpractice.
This policy gives zero direction to media or to those enforced with policing it. The policy relies upon the determination of what a "real-time" description or transmission of the event actually is. As if that weren't bad enough, they put "real-time" in quotes. So does "real-time" even mean real-time or is at euphemism for something else? No one knows. Potter Stewart said he knew obscenity when he saw it. Now you're relying on ancient sports information directors at SEC schools, men who likely still distrust cordless telephones, to know "real-time" when they see it? Honestly, this paragraph is so dumb it makes my head hurt. Live I've just eaten cold ice cream on a 95 degree day.
As you can see, the language is guilty of the most fundamental flaw of contract law, it gives no direction whatsoever. Worse, it doesn't really understand the issue at hand. Namely, there isn't one single person on Earth who chooses to consume an SEC sporting event through Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, radio update, or text message if they could actually watch the game. These are all supplements to the actual game. Herschel Walker could be the greatest tweeter on Earth, and no Georgia fan is choosing to turn off the television so they can get 140 character updates like this every nine minutes during the Florida game:
"Hotdogs in press box are gr8. #Georgia needs to run the ball more."
Can you imagine the homicides in the South that would ensue if we had to follow a football game through social media? And only social media?
Fans want to watch the game on television. Period. If they consume the game in any other fashion, they're doing it as a supplement to the televised game or because they have zero other options, like they're buried alive in a coffin yet still able to receive BlackBerry signal. Let me reiterate in the screeching voice of a 16-year-old-girl:
"Like, none of these things matter that much!"
3. It's easier to cover a game from your couch than from the press box.
Which brings me to this, the regulations permit the vast majority of the public, those that aren't at the game as part of the crowd or the media, to do as they see fit. Facebook update, live blog, tweet, send e-mails and text messages, talk on the radio. You can do all this with impunity from outside the stadium.
So this policy is designed to impact only the most diehard of fans, the small minority of the game-consumers who actually watch the game in an antiquated fashion -- in person. How stupid is this? What's more, in an age when old-forms of media are under assault, this policy would actually mean that you could better write about the game without actually going to the game.
4. Ticket-bearing fans are included!
"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, video, audio, reproduction or other information concerning the Event, other than in speech that cannot be restricted under the First Amendment, in any form."
Again, the stupidity of this phrase makes me wonder if the SEC actually has lawyers. There's a long list of restrictions and then the pesky First Amendment is tossed in there near the end. "Other than in speech that cannot be restricted under the First Amendment" is kind of a key phrase. Again, I have to ask, did any lawyer touch this? It sounds like the throwaway line of a bad Government AP Exam when the student has no idea what the First Amendment actually is.
That or really bad hate mail: "One day I'm going to kill you, unless that's illegal."
Message boards and talk radio are alive with indignation because many fans have read this and believe that the SEC is going to keep them from text messaging, posting photos from games on Facebook, tweeting, e-mailing, or even, God forbid, calling someone from the game.
And if you construe the language broadly the SEC is arguing that they have this right. But here's the deal, how are they going to enforce the policy? If I send a message from my seat in the stadium, how do they know where it's coming from? I could be anywhere. At home. In my car.
Unless, that is, I tell them. Which I will. Right here and now. My name is Clay Travis and I will be sitting inside your stadiums this fall. And I'm going to write about it. In real-time. From the stands. On social media platforms. Charge me with violating this policy and let's see who wins.
Because of that pesky First Amendment.
5. The SEC is forgetting who the greatest evangelizers for SEC football are, the fans.
The value of SEC fans' loyalty far exceeds the value of any contract for any amount of money. The SEC should keep that in mind as they seek to tap new markets and wrest every last cent from the consumer. In fact, here's what they should do right now to pay penance for their stupidity: They should announce that every game highlight will be free online for the next five years. What's more, they should announce that they are in the process of putting together the greatest collection of SEC highlights from the past 70 years that has ever existed. Many never before seen. That they will upload this content online in conjunction with the schools, and that any fan of any age will be able to easily search for video highlights of their favorite players, teams, and games.
You should be able to type in any name and any game and find the play that you remember from way back when you were a child or from last week. That footage should be easily embeddable on Facebook, blog software, and other forms of social media.
Not just because it's the right thing for the SEC to do by its fans, but because distributing their highlight content evangelizes a new generation of fans, and solidifies the fandom of current generations. Find a regional sponsor for that website and build it up through their advertising dollars. It makes no sense to allow everyone to see the plays once and then build walls to keep them from being seen again.
If you need any help with implementing this policy, do us all a favor and ask any 16-year-old girl in America how it should work. They'll be better at it than you are.