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Blogging a sports event: What’s ‘live’ and what isn’t?

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An NCAA official ejected a sports reporter Sunday from the press box at a college baseball tournament game for providing “live” blog updates on his paper’s Web site.

The NCAA booted Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal sports reporter Brian Bennett during the Louisville-Oklahoma State “Super Regional” game. The beef, it seems is over the word “live.” Sayeth the wire services:

Rights to the Super Regional games were owned by ESPN, and memos were circulated in the Louisville press box that said blogs were a “live representation” of the game and thus not permitted.

The evolution of sports reporting to include blogs written as an athletic contest unfolds has collided with the NCAA’s desire to protect its contractual commitments with broadcasters such as ESPN. The NCAA owns the television rights to all 88 of its championships. It sells these rights through bidding. CBS and ESPN are the primary broadcast television rights holders for NCAA championship events. This commercialization of college sports began in earnest decades ago — and blogging constitutes a complication of and perhaps a threat to that culture of college sports as a profit center.

Money has flowed into colleges and universities through broadcast contracts for decades since a 1984 Supreme Court decision allowed colleges to individually pursue broadcast contracts. Revenue sports have seen a surge in funding over that time. Successful coaches in big conference revenue sports signed multi-million-dollar contracts. But the NCAA retained broadcast rights to championships.

They’re worth a lot of money. Congress was told last year that under its men’s basketball tournament contract “CBS will pay the NCAA an average of $545 million per year in tax-free money.” And that “[t]otal annual operating revenues for all NCAA divisions are approximately $7.8 billion.” And that “[t]he NCAA receives 85 percent of its revenues from the sale of television rights.”

As they say, money is the root of all evil. According to a 2001 Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics report, abuses accompanied the money.

NCAA censures, sanctions and probations rose. Players received illicit payments. Recruiting violations increased. Crimes sprees by athletes made news. Now it has to be noted that NCAA provides extraordinary opportunities for more than 380,000 student-athletes. But more about that at another time.

College sports can be viewed as a business. In fact, it has to be. Ask any athletic director how much fundraising and marketing is needed beyond a college or university’s budgetary support to field a creditable program. (Disclosure: I serve as faculty athletics representative at my university.)

So along comes a sports reporter writing a blog during a game. Good heavens, says the NCAA. That contravenes our contract with ESPN! Bennett, through his blog, is “televising” a live performance! Can’t have that! Out of the press box he went — and he reported his ejection on the paper’s blog.

Bennett had blogged earlier games without incident but those had not been televised. The paper says it will pursue this as a First Amendment issue. Says Courier-Journal Executive Editor Bennie L. Ivory:

This is part of the evolution of how we present the news to our readers. It’s what we did during the Orange Bowl. It’s what we did during the NCAA basketball tournament. It’s what we do.

Online reporting through blogs has become common for newspapers, especially in sports. But it seems the NCAA and its broadcasting partners see this as a threat to their revenues.

This may end up with a court deciding on the definition of “live” — as in live Internet updates. Says the paper’s lawyer, Jon Fleischaker:

Once a player hits a home run, that’s a fact. It’s on TV, everybody sees it. [The NCAA] can’t copyright that fact. The blog wasn’t a simulcast or a recreation of the game. It was an analysis.

As blogging becomes more sophisticated, more routine — and used more by the mainstreams folks — situations like this will crop up more often.

xpost: Scholars & Rogues and 5th Estate

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

June 12, 2007 at 5:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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