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The Revised SEC Media Policy and a Podcast From Charlie Bloom

The firestorm that ensued after the SEC issued its media and ticket holder policy was rather spectacular, and resulted in some changes.  The media policy got changed, thanks in part to a slew of complaints from local media outlets, but the ticket holder policy is unaffected at the moment.  You can download the revised media policy here if you wish, but I'm going to focus on the ticket holder policy (despite the title of this post).

Recently, the Buzz Manager Blog had a podcast interview with Charlie Bloom (the SEC Associate Commissioner of Media Relations) about the fan policy and asked some questions to clarify the SEC's point of view.  The interview may be heard here in downloadable form.

Below the jump is a transcript I made of the interview if you're interested in print form.  I've condensed the questions to their essence and tried to transcribe the responses as best as I could.  Note that the policy is referred to as the "revised policy", even though it's only the media policy that has been revised, not the fan policy.  However, this interview is referring specifically to the fan policy, so I'll keep the term 'revised' in there so his responses make more sense.

The interview is 10 minutes long so the text is a bit of a burden, but I made some comments throughout.  In the meantime, here is a summary:

[Note by hooper, 08/19/09 9:06 AM EDT ]  H/T to Year2 for pointing me to the revised ticket policy which, despite my original wording, does exist.  Nothing changes, other than photos appear permissible for private use.

  • No video.  This is clearly stated.  It's not clear whether this includes video of tailgating or non-game activity within the stadium (I assume it doesn't).  But it's clear that they don't like fan video of the game itself.  The overarching intent of the policy is to protect the video interests of the SEC and its partners, and fan-made videos are the real villain in the whole policy.  Everything else lies in shades of gray.
  • No profiteering.  They don't want people going to the games for the sake of creating marketable content, particularly if it competes with the official video feeds of the game.
  • Twitter, facebooking, and photos are fine.  Maybe.  I think he's trying to say it's alright to get pictures and make Tweets about the game itself, but he is very ambiguous with it.  Bloom mentions things like tailgating and non-game activities as specifically permissible for photos, etc., but never states the same for the game itself.  Make of it what you will.
  • But really, the SEC wants your pictures.  For their profit.  This is something that has come out of the SEC before:  they have interest in driving traffic towards their websites and their schools' websites by owning the internet content relating to the games.  This comes up again in the form of a potential website for file-sharing of fan-generated content.  Such a site is just speculation on Bloom's part, but if they ever create it, the policy would make it exclusive and rule all other venues as 'competitive'.  In short, if they SEC puts up a fan-picture site, they could conceivably ban all fan pictures that aren't submitted to their site.  I don't think that's what was really intended, but again, the language is in place.

But enough of that; on to the transcript.


(In the transcript, any bold facing and emphases are mine.)

On the revised policy and its impact on social media.

The intent of the revised policy is not to inhibit inside our stadiums with the exception of trying to protect our video rights as they pertain to our television and media partners.  So someone in the stadium can enter Twitter feeds or facebook entries and photographs, but the game video, the game footage video from the network we're trying to protect.

That sounds pretty cut and dry:  text and photos are alright, but don't post up video.  I don't think the SEC is going to treat it as cleanly as that, though.  You'll find out later on that the Tweets, facebook entries and photos are not without limits.

On the effect of fan response and the revision of the policy.

It was never the intent of the conference to cut off social media from inside the stadium. That was never the intent.  The language that initially was done was wide-reaching in nature, but definitely the feedback from the fans on it played a role, especially in the expeditious nature of trying to get this done because of the outcry when it was launched.

This is mostly good; they don't want to cut social media out entirely.

On whether the athletic departments helped shaped the policy, or if it was SEC fiat.

There's a lot of stakeholders, obviously, and each group had their say.  We're in our first year of our television and digital rights agreement, so there was a feeling that we needed to push this thing through quickly.  And I believe that through the hastiness of it, some of the translation got lost, and especially as it dealt with the media / public relations aspect of it.  But I think now with the revised policy, we have landed at a place where I think the intent had been all along.

We knew that the new agreements were the driving force behind this.  That's fine.  We understand that ESPN, et al. have paid a lot of money to the conference and the schools (money that we SEC fans don't have to pay, by the way), and they want to protect their investment.  That's business, and we get it.  Free money for SEC athletics to dominate in exchange for footage rights. No problems here.

On whether the SEC executives understand social media, or if they're out of touch.

I will say this: the SEC offices – the entire institution – understands the importance of social media.  I don't think they're afraid of the technology or that unfamiliarity with it caused this issue, but I think maybe the crafting of the language – my guess is if you were to review the language of other policies going backwards, you would find similar language.  My guess is that this will be a test case for other conferences and for other organizations: when they write their policy, they have got to make social media a part of it.

This question will plague the SEC if they don't get it right.

On whether other conferences were consulted.

We had language from other organizations, and you know, some conferences have a conference-wide policy and some don't.  I think there's several ways you can go around it with institutional policy or with conference policy.  … There's a wide range of ways to go around it, and since this is a conference contract, we chose to go that way.  We researched other conferences and other organizations going backwards, and this was a compilation of some of that, and like I said, my guess is, going forward, they'll have to take social media into account.

Standard business here.  Of course, other conferences were consulted - at least as far as reviewing their policies, if nothing else.

On whether this covered all SEC sports.


All SEC events in all sports.

On how this affects 'bloggers who have ads on their blogs' if the intent is to prevent fans from commercializing their content.

That is not the intent.  I think the intent really is for someone not to create revenue from entry with the sole purpose of duplicating what's being done by the conference.  And I think that once that passes the test, I don't feel that there'll be any repercussions, but you know it's really protecting what the conference and the institutions are doing from a video standpoint.

This is really, really broad here, but is probably an artifact of conversational language.  I think he's saying that the SEC is protecting specifically the video, but there is room to suggest that the protection automatically broadens if the SEC does more things beyond the television broadcast.

On whether a grainy YouTube feed can have any impact on watching the game on TV.

Well, this is one of the issues that we'll have to address going forward internally as well as with our institutions.  The policy will be reviewed each year and it remains to be seen whether that will make an impact, but right now, the intent is not to allow it.  If we find that it is not an issue and there are some fringe video we can do, we'll take a look at it.  But for right now we definitely want to protect our video.

So video is out.  Further, if the SEC feels they can work with 'fringe video', they will, but it sounds like they'll do it on their terms (i.e. their licenses).  See the next point.

On whether the SEC anticipates creating a social media environment for otherwise forbidden fan-generated content.

I am not familiar with any discussion.  I would say that for a conference that has a strong history and strong fan support like we do, I think it'd be advantageous for us if the conference would get involved with the discussions to try to get something for our fans to unify and have a social media site, but we know that in the history of the SEC, one of the strong points that we have is the support and the passion of our fan base, and if we can tie that into a social media platform for the conference and our institutions, we should look at that and try to get that done.

Count me as the first who doesn't like the idea of the SEC restricting fan-generated content, then turning around and creating their own space for such content as the only space that it would be allowed.  This would certainly be the case with cell phone video if it's not allowed on YouTube but the SEC tries to make their own site for it.

On how this impacts the schools.

I think that social media is a way that our fans can be engaged, and we can share the positive word of what goes on in our universities and in our stadiums.  We talk about the environment around our games, and it's an experience.  It's not just a 60-minute football game.  So I think if we have fans in our stands who Tweet and enter facebook entries and take a picture and show everyone having a great time – whether it's tailgating or the scenery around the stadium – I think that's a positive that we can use to get the word out about our atmosphere at the ballgames.

One special note about Bloom's dialogue is that he never once mentions an acceptable way for fans to record the actual game action - whether it be a Tweet, a picture, or a video.  He's explicit about not videoing it, but he ducks the question of whether a fan can take a picture of the game itself.  Here, he only talks about fans recording the periphery of the game itself.  This is still an unclear point.

On whether this benefits the schools.

I think so.  I think it's something that is now in the mainstream, and we need to be part of that stream.