By Mike Phelps
With the explosion of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, many teams, schools, conferences, and leagues have been working to develop guidelines and standards for how to best use and regulate these innovative tools. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) recently made headlines with the release--and re-release--of its latest policy, perhaps the strictest set of guidelines yet.
The SEC originally sent its new policy to the conference's 12 member schools in early August. The policy detailed the increasingly strict limits placed on how much audio, video, and real-time blogging reporters can do at games, practices, and news conferences. The policy grabbed attention, however, because it also included rules for fans in the stands, who would no longer be able to send updates to Twitter, take photos on their cell phones and post them online, or record video and post it to YouTube.
The policy stated: "Ticketed fans can't '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.'"
According to the St. Petersburg Times, a conference spokesperson said the policy's goal was to keep as many eyeballs as possible on ESPN and CBS, which own the broadcast rights to the SEC's football games for the next 15 years. But that didn't satisfy many fans, who were upset with the restrictions. That outcry, combined with some negative reaction from the media, led to the conference deciding to revisit the policy.
The revised policy, which allows social media updates, as long as they are for personal, not commercial use, states: "No Bearer may produce or disseminate in any form a "real-time" description or transmission of the Event (i) for commercial or business use, or (ii) in any manner that constitutes, or is intended to provide or is promoted or marketed as, a substitute for radio, television or video coverage of such Event. Personal messages and updates of scores or other brief descriptions of the competition throughout the Event are acceptable."
Following the release of the updated policy, SEC Associate Commissioner of Media Relations Charles Bloom spoke with Sports Media Challenge's Kathleen Hessert to clarify the statement.
According to Bloom, "The intent of the revised policy is not to inhibit social media inside our stadiums with the exception of trying to protect our video rights as they pertain to our television and media partners. Someone in the stadium can enter Twitter feeds or Facebook entries and photographs, but the game footage video is something we will try to protect."
Following the initial negative reaction, Bloom actually turned to Hessert for advice on how to move forward. She advised the conference to listen to the fans, which led to the conference spreading the news of its policy update via Twitter.
"Issuing the new policy on social media was absolutely intentional," Hessert told the Charlotte Observer. "If the conversation is fan-generated, you've got to be where they are."The updated policy appears to have satisfied both fans and media members alike.
"Brilliant," writes ESPN.com's Ryan Corazza. "A policy that not only protects the TV and broadcast issues, but one that seeks to satisfy the fans' personal social media freedom. If fans in the stands aren't tweeting about a game, people at home or at the bar will. But the more tweets--especially on-site ones from friends or users you follow--the more it will drive Twitter users to a game."Brendan Wilhide, who runs Sportsin140.com, a Web site dedicated to following the sports industry on Twitter, agrees.
"Social media is about growing your brand," he told ESPN.com. "These are fans. These are people that are devoted to the teams. If the SEC banned them from social media, it would not do anything good for their brand."The NFL has also been dealing with how to regulate social media use. The league has a policy forbidding players from tweeting from the bench during games, but some teams have taken additional steps on their own. The Miami Dolphins, for example, do not allow fans entering the practice facility to do any tweeting, blogging, or texting, while media members may only tweet for the first 20 minutes of practice.
"I would acknowledge that enforcing the restrictions can be difficult," Harvey Greene, Miami's Senior Vice President for Media Relations told the Associated Press. "We're not looking over everybody's shoulder, but we do have a concern about information flow."Despite a league memo to teams that stated prohibiting media from reporting via tweeting, blogging, and texting wasn't practical, the Dolphins, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, and Detroit Lions all don't allow reporting from the practice field. The Broncos have taken things a step further, banning cell phones and computers at workouts to stop fans from tweeting and texting. Still, the NFL encourages its players to tweet at appropriate times, and NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said that around 300 players do so. "We've been at the forefront as technology has changed," McCarthy told the Associated Press. "We have embraced Twitter. The commissioner tweeted from the draft. When done properly, it's a tremendous opportunity to talk with fans."
Mike Phelps is an Assistant Editor at Athletic Management.