Friday, April 07, 2006

They call it 'control,' but there are other words for it

It pains me to say this, but Chuck Howard is absolutely right.

Howard is the sports anchor on the NBC affiliate in Charlotte, and even he'd tell you that his ego doesn't need any more stroking. But in our newspaper the other day he spelled out his objections to a new NFL policy that will remove local stations' cameras from the sidelines at the league's games, and he was on the money.

Under the new policy, your local station will be allowed to use highlights only from network telecasts or NFL Films crews. The real problem, though, goes deeper than that.

The local stations' crews won't be allowed on the sidelines to film during the games, so that means nobody who isn't writing the NFL a check will have cameras on what's happening on the field and on the sidelines during the games.

The networks have a lot of cameras at a game, and your local affiliate might have had one or two shooters working the sidelines. But those one or two guys, at least the good ones, have their eye out for local stories the networks might not be interested in.

If the Houston Texans are playing at New England, for example, the network's cameras are far more likely to be shooting a close-up of Patriots player than following what's happening on the Houston sidelines. That stinks for Texans fans.

You're probably asking yourself what it the heck I'm doing spouting off about this. Valid question. First, before I started covering NASCAR I wrote columns and television and radio sports for the Observer. Second, those of us who cover racing came up against a battle like this a few years back when NASCAR asked us all to sign what came to be known as "Article 4" in applying for our annual credentials.

Without any kind of warning or discussion, NASCAR slipped language into the form we all turn in to get our "hard cards" basically saying that anything written, said, heard, shot or basically even thought of at the track was NASCAR's "property." That February, there was a space shuttle launch that could be seen clearly from the track, and we all joked that in NASCAR's view that made the shuttle its "intellectual property."

But it was no joking matter.

Like the NFL this time around, NASCAR said it was merely trying to "protect" its broadcast partners' rights. In racing's case, though, NASCAR was trying to squeeze as many people out of making a buck of the sport as they could so it could get all those dollars.

That is, indeed, the NASCAR way. The media fought back on "Article 4" and largely its provisions were withdrawn. There are some parts of that debate that are valid, of course. If a network is paying millions of dollars for the rights to live broadcasts of NASCAR races or NFL games or the NCAA tournament or The Masters, those rights should be protected.

But if a station in Dallas or Fort Worth comes to Texas Motor Speedway, it should be allowed to shoot action as it sees fit as long as it uses that footage properly. A local station can't, for instance, repackage the footage it takes as a race and sell DVDs including that footage. But it can use it on its news shows to amplify and supplement the network highlights it also has the right to use.

In both the NASCAR and the NFL situations, local photographers, writers, videographers and on-air talent are there to represent their viewers and readers and to present parts of the story that might not otherwise be covered.

If the league or sanctioning body controls all of that, it by default controls what's being reported about its sport.

NASCAR would absolutely LOVE to have an arrangement like that. But as fans, trust me, you don't.


Monkeesfan said...

Sports bodies are always lying when they say they want to protect the rights of its broadcast partners. Broadcast partners are never harmed by allowing local or "alternative" press into the competitive arena to cover angles of the competition usually missed by the main broadcasters.

Sports bodies who take over control and limit the number of media covering the event inside the competition arena do so because they are obsessed with spinning a story, to make something look better than it actually is. It was the mindset behind NASCAR's now-defunct Article 4 policy and is the mindset behind the NFL's idea, an idea that will be shot down as quickly as NASCAR's deal was because there is not a single media outlet that supports the idea.

Spin - a euphemism for lying - has become all the rage now; when NASCAR began citing obscure stats like "quality passes" and trap speeds from its scoring loops, they were trying to spin a race into looking better than it actually was.

Anonymous said...

Interesting pos, but I do have a question.

In relation to the recent "Dateline" flap attempting to locate anti-muslim bigotry at a NASCAR event.

Couldn't NASCAR under the rules you describe ban NBC Dateline from the track?

Just a thought, although it's a moot point now that Dateline has "pulled up stakes" and moved on.

Monkeesfan said...

Marc, if they tried that, NBC would scream censorship and NASCAR would likely back down.

Anonymous said...

It is the NFL's game, they make the rules. Why should they allow local camera crews on the sideline to shoot. The NFL goes to great lengths to limit the number of people on the sidelines during a game. They could do even better if they limited the number sideline still photogs to about 10 pergame.

I'd charge $500 per writer for a seat in the pressbox. If a reporter wanted access to the press box buffet it would be another $50.00.

The media needs the NFL more then the NFL needs the media.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I didn't get to the race at TMS this time around. Fingers are crossed for November.

The local stations had lots of coverage of the entire race weekend, and more than jsut the stock footage. The local Fox affiliate was doing reports as early as 5:00am Thursday morning when the Nextel Cup haulers started arriving at TMS.
There were interviews with drivers, Eddie Gossage and lots of fans both old and new.

I can't vouch for any other local stations, since we watch Fox in the mornings, but I'm sure they had their own coverage, although I'm certain that Fox had the lion's share of the local coverage because of their TV deal.

Never mind the local interest in having this huge event in our backyard. Race weekend brings additional events tied in with local sponsors (TI, Interstate Batteries), local charities (Safe Ride), traffic headaches associated wtiih 200,000 people trying to get in and out of the speedway Sunday, as well as local human interest stories surrounding the race, the drivers, the fans or the track itself celebrating it's tenth year of operation. Locally, it's a big deal, so it deserves (and received) big local coverage.

I have to agree, David. Local press needs to be at an event whether it's a race, a football game or the rock-paper-scissors championship (which was also this past weekend, if anyone cares-I don't). That's the whole purpose of the local media, last I checked. The very idea of charging the press just to get to a game is absurd. I agree that it's NFL's show just as the races are NASCAR's show, but neither one of them would be around for very long without the media.
In this day and age, that includes TV, radio, newspapers, bloggers, webcams, and who knows what else.
Shut out the media, and you're doomed to failure, plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

When I read about the NFL rule and how our local sports reporter was totally against it, my first thought was "oh no, not this again!" NA$CAR will try this bull crap again. I only hope the reporters fight this rule with the NFL. I understand when they want to control the cussing that takes place and to a point I agree. But when they start dictating what can and can't be seen, that I have a problem with. NA$CAR already does it. Notice how we don't hear the booing and/or cheering during driver introductions on the radio and tv? They have slowly done away with that..........what's next?