Just as the SEC reversed course on its unrealistic ban of all social media by fans at SEC games, the NFL continues to take more steps toward restricting the use of Twitter and other tools to share content they want to “protect” for themselves. Still sounds so much like the Napster scenario now being played out in the world of sports entertainment content rather than music.
As Adam Ostrow reported last month on Mashable, the SEC ultimately changed, or clarified, its policy to allow personal messages and posting. But they are very clear about any video or footage intended to be used for commercial purposes as being outlaw.
“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. If the SEC deems that a Bearer is producing a commercial or real-time description of the Event, the SEC reserves the right to pursue all available remedies against the Bearer.
Absent the prior written permission of the Southeastern Conference, game action videos of the Event may not be taken by Bearer. Photos of the Event may be taken by Bearer and distributed solely for personal use (and such photographs shall not be licensed, used, or sold commercially, or used for any commercial or business purpose).”
But the NFL took the opposite approach. Some talk has been that in an effort to prevent Chad OchoCinco from flying in a fan to tweet during the game on his behalf, the NFL has officially banned social media starting 90 minutes before and during all NFL games. According to Steve Raquel on the Bleacher Report, the restrictions put in place include:
Ok, so the idea of a player Tweeting in the end zone or on the sideline is a distraction and I get it, I guess. But isn’t this about entertainment. Doesn’t Twitter suddenly make the fanatic follower of a team feel he knows exactly what Chad OchoCinco is thinking at that very moment. Doesn’t that make same said fanatic follower even more fanatic about following that team?
I love Adam Ostrow’s quote reported by Jennifer Van Grove, also in Mashable, in her very well written summary of the issue:
“Sure, these days someone could theoretically live stream a game from their camera phone. But a shaky, low resolution video from the upper deck of Yankee Stadium isn’t exactly the same as watching FOX’s telecast on your big screen TV. Social media should be viewed as a fantastic compliment to sports that is good for both fans and the TV networks, but at the moment, it seems that’s anything but how it’s being perceived.”
That’s the point. Hello. Just like the blackouts that force their content to not be shown in local markets if the stadium isn’t sold out… the NFL needs to think about the people who feed their empire. Sure, so many of us love football to the point we watch even with this silliness… but how much more would we do if more efforts were made to connect with the fan.
I think a bigger issue is the concern the focus in on the player and not the team. If Chad OchoCinco tweets on the field, it’s not helping the Bengals, perhaps, as much as it is Chad OchoCinco. They can’t allow individual player brands to be established, shared, and extended.
But, teams can do the same thing, and in an even more powerful way because they have the content people want or need to be fanatics.
Consider what the NY Jets have done (all since losing Brett Favre, of course!). In August they held a contest to give away tickets to games to followers of them on Twitter (@NY_Jets). They now have 4,500+ followers on their official Twitter ID. The contest was put on by the Jets, not by their fans… an important difference, and an indication of an organization trying to reach out.
But the Jets seem to get it. Again this week they launched a promotion partnership with JetBlue with discount fares for games in Buffalo and Florida — all promoted, shared, and extended via social media connections as well.
The Jets efforts very well may be attributed to blogger, Twitterer, wine connoisseur and social-networking guru Gary Vaynerchuk. Apparently, he has launched Vaynermedia and lists the NY Jets as one of his clients.
Compare this with the Dallas Cowboys. I couldn’t find an “official” Twitter feed, but there are 20+ fan-created follower groups of “America’s Team”. The most popular, @Cowboys, has 13,000+ followers. Imagine what the team could do with an official feed offering content, access, and connections to fans.
Another argument against the use of Twitter at sports is sharing confidential information, like the recent ban by the US Open to restrict players using it. Andy Roddick called it right in my view when he explained you’d have to be a moron to share “insider information” that would call into question the integrity of the game.
Ian Paul reported on other decisions by teams in the NFL regarding social media during training camps and in the preseason, apparently to protect their trade secrets (avoid the infamous video taping of signals fiasco):
The Dolphins allow the media to tweet as much as they like for the first 20 minutes or so of practice, but once team drills begin all electronic equipment including computers, cameras, and cell phones has to be turned off, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Dolphins fans, on the other hand, are forbidden to blog, tweet or even send SMS messages while watching their team practice. The Dolphins aren’t the only NFL team wary of new forms of communication either.
Teams like the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, and Detroit Lions all have similar restrictions, while the Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers are running tweet-friendly training camps.
I suggest, rather than being so focused on protecting trade secrets or trying to ban players from branding themselves or try to keep fans from distributing content that they own, the NFL, and other sports entertainment brands, should look to how these tools can enhance the relationship with their most important assets: their customer base.
Bring some fan on Twitter who keeps up with what’s going on to the primo seat for free, in exchange for his or her building, promoting, and living the essence of that team. Conduct press conferences for exclusive content that only goes to your followers on Twitter first. Incentivize your players to get a following, create venues for them to get together with these people who love what they do.
Have a relationship. Don’t try to enforce or create an “arranged marriage”… those don’t work so well in our world today.