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Southeastern Conference Steps On It With Media Policy Dictum

Thursday, August 13, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 9:45 AM, under , , ,

Risk is everywhere. The key to dealing with risk is doing the best you can to assess the risk, and decide how best to deal with it. With the release of their recent draft of a new media credentialing and ticket-holder policy, not only does it appear that the Southeastern Conference (SEC) misread the risk, but the conference set themselves up as an example of the perfect example of how NOT to develop and implement a policy.

As a result, the SEC is in scramble mode, trying to react the the fierce and justified criticism over what was contained in the draft policy.

The intent of the new policy is clear. The SEC has taken a lot of money from CBS Sports, ESPN, and XOS to launch what could be the dominant pseudo-network for media content in college athletics.

Eye on Sports Media conducted an e-mail interview with Charles Bloom, SEC Associate Commissioner for Media Relations. What follows is the text of that interview, followed by a discussion of what seemed to be missing in the initial answers.

Readers need to note that Mr. Bloom is the messenger in this policy debacle, and has been heads down in a fire drill to revise the policy before the start of the football season in a few weeks. And there were follow up questions sent yesterday that Mr. Bloom that he said were "tough follow-ups" and he will talk more with us about them after the policy is completed. These will also be discussed later in this piece.

Eye on Sports Media (EOSM): Was the driver of this new policy because of the new agreement with XO, or because of the agreement with ESPN and or CBS, or all three? What internal and external parties/stakeholders were involved in the development of the draft policy?

Charles Bloom (CB): The intent of the policy is to protect the conference and its institutions for on-line video content. There are implications for the policy with our agreements with XOS as well as our television arrangements.

EOSM: My read of the policy is that credentialed media will be able to blog and twitter from the event sites, but they just cannot do a live play-by-play, or give stats/scores as they are happening. Is this a correct interpretation?

CB: That would be correct. In fact, we have had that policy in effect for several years now.

EOSM: There seems to be a lot of angst over the section that says:

Each Bearer must be and hereby represents that he or she is (i) acting on a specific assignment for an accredited media agency, and (ii) is the agency's full-time salaried employee who has a legitimate working function in connection with the Event attended.

On one hand, I totally understand the need to keep people who are taking up seats just to be there out of the box so working media get the spots they need. I also understand that schools and the SEC cannot physically accommodate every Tom Dick and Harry out there.

But I totally agree with the critics who say the "full-time salaried employee" is just way to restrictive. For example, the publisher of is self-employed, but he is not technically employed or salaried. The same would go for others who write freelance pieces for AOL, ESPN, etc.

You also have the situation where newspapers are eliminating full-time positions and going more and more with stringers. For example, the Athens Banner-Herald hired two stringers to report from the Nationwide Tour's Athens Regional Foundation Classic last year. No full-time staff was on-site.

And then you have people who write for sites such as NewsVine, NowPublic, AOL Fanhouse, and Bleacher Report. In fact, Bleacher Report has the deal with to embed ├╝ber-short form correspondents with each NFL Team (see Washington Redskins Fan Getting Paid to Cover His Love ).

I have run into this situation myself. I have been credentialed by the Anaheim Ducks, the Nationwide Tour, UGA, and just last week the Washington Redskins. The Redskins understood why I requested the credential, and went out of their way to help me with the resulting series of articles I am publishing (see Talking New Media at the Washington Redskins Training Camp ).

Yet, the Washington Nationals balked at a request I made because I wanted to do a story on the Nationals ballpark and the economic impact it was having on that traditionally run down but now exploding part of Washington, D.C. The reaction when I told media "colleagues" from ESPN and local DC outlets about the rejection was a universal "Are you kidding me? They should be willing to pay you to come and give them print!". One person also told me that when he walked into the press box just before the game started, he saw a ghost town.

I picked up one of LSU' s basketball media guides from last year and they had a pretty strict policy for "Website Credential Qualifications". I think they key is in the first numbered item that says the online site

"Must be a legal corporate entity which has been in business at least one calendar year and has provided coverage of LSU for at least one year."

I think the "Corporate entity" is too narrowly defined because it leaves out S Corps, LLC/LLPs. Partnerships, etc which are all legally recognized business forms. But the policy also says exceptions could be made by the SID.

So the question is, given that this is a draft document, is the SEC looking to better define the terms "accredited media agency" and "agency's full-time salaried employee?" How will this apply to student newspapers and student-run television stations? How will this apply to independent start up media such as my site, which turns 2 in November? How much flexibility will local SID's having in applying the definition locally?

CB: The section of the policy as it relates to full-time, salaried employees is one that will likely get cut. As you can imagine, we are also dealing with student media as well and that would not go over very well with journalism professors on our campuses.

EOSM: TV Stations are up in arms on the video use policy. How will they be able to use video from a previous game (either in the current season or before) for special packages on upcoming games, or stories about a particular player? How will newspapers be able to use photographs? For example, I will take pictures and use them for stories as the season unfolds.

CB: That is an issue that is still being discussed. There are different aspects to the different mediums involved.

EOSM: The ticket-holder section also has people rolling their eyes. Will it even be possible for the SEC and member schools to ban people from bringing cameras and cell-phones into the stadium, or to enforce this policy? What is the purpose behind this policy? Is it to prevent people from selling pictures they took commercially? Does the SEC, the member schools, and your media partners see a risk allowing people to do what they have done for years, and as technology evolves putting their personal photos on Facebook, MySpace, FlickR, etc?

CB: I do not envision a ban on cellphones and cameras. That has not come up in our discussions.

EOSM: The text for the back of tickets and/or credentials say that the bearer/holder is subject, by reference, to the full rules and regulations as posted on the SEC web site. I looked for them and could not find them. What will the SEC do to make this information more readily available for ticketed fans? How does the SEC see this as enforceable for fans buying tickets on the fly the day of a game?

CB: We will definitely have to work hard in informing fans and media about the new policies. It is definitely a work in progress process and we don't expect that everyone will be up to speed by the first game.

The answers provided in the first round were a good start but many were unanswered for the time being. However,the unanswered questions are the key to this discussion in terms of effective risk management and policy development/implementation.

Effective policy development requires true risk assessment. The elements of risk, and the definition, is shown in this slide our parent company, The Cayuga Group, LLC, uses in our seminar presentations on risk assessment, risk mitigation, and policy development:

If you look at those terms and the formula, it is not clear that these were assessed. Well, except for the Asset Value. It appears that it is all about the value of the packages that the SEC sold last year. The appearance is that the SEC is taking an approach of "damn the reality of the world, we are going to lock every down as tight as a ship, despite the collateral damage."

The key word is appearance, because none of us really know what is happening behind those closed doors. But we do know one thing: The SEC is taking a huge hit on "goodwill." For the non-Accountants out there, "goodwill" is an intangible asset, i.e. we know it adds a lot to an organizations value, we just cannot exactly quantify it. Goodwill arises from an organization's brand value and reputation.

Right now, the reputation of the SEC is being beat up pretty badly by both the media and their fan base, as well as reportedly by SEC member institution Sports Information Directors who are reportedly saying they were totally blindsided by the new policy and that they were not involved in its development.

So with all that said, here are the follow-up questions sent to the SEC via Charles Bloom. These questions deal with issues on how the policy was developed, and what the policy says vs. what the SEC thinks it says:

As it is being reported that school SIDs felt blindsided by this, what what internal and external stakeholders outside the immediate office of the Commissioner were involved in the development of the draft? Was a risk assessment conducted?

How much flexibility will local SID's having in interpreting/applying the definition locally?

The policy for ticketholders states "No bearer may produce or disseminate produce...any information about the event...including but mot limited to...picture, video,... (see page 4 of the draft policy). On its face, it bans the use of Cameras, even those contained in Cellphone, and effectively bans cell phone based postings to Facebook, Twitpic, Twitter, etc.. This is where I see the most incongruity in the policy. How could this section, on its face, be enforced without banning cellphones and cameras? And if it is not enforced, how could any other section of the policy be enforced?

We will post about our follow-up discussions with the SEC as they happen.

And thank you to Mr. Bloom for taking the time to discuss these issues, as they are very important in the Web 2.0/New Media World.

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