Social Media Vs. Media Exclusivity

This post is a collaboration with the super smart Lauren Fernandez. She pointed me towards this story and related issue, so it was only right to have her weigh in and get her point of view. You can connect with Lauren at her awesome PR blog or on Twitter.

We’re all aware of the hyper-connectivity that Social Media has created in today’s digital age – providing us with information and numerous forms of media at the tips of our fingers. The speed at which technology has changed our everyday lives and the opportunities it has created for businesses is amazing; but the SEC doesn’t see it that way.

The Southeastern collegiate athletic conference has sent out a new media policy that outlines stringent limitations to reporters, but even more importantly, rules for the fans. That’s right – the SEC and their perceived threat of technology and social media made them issue this guideline for fans that attend SEC events:

Ticketed fans can’t “produce or disseminate (or aid in producing or disseminating) any material or information about the Event, including, but not limited to, any account, description, picture, video, audio, reproduction or other information concerning the Event.”


The growing issue we see here is about media exclusivity and whether organizations such as the SEC have the rights to exclusive ownership to media (while preventing user-generated media) – or do those of us paying for & consuming such events, have the rights to utilize social media to capture and share created media with our communities. On one side you have billion dollar budgets from companies that expect such media to be produced and viewed within the confines of their respective platforms – where on the flip, you have the power of technology and the evolving world of media and how it’s consumed IRL and shared in the e-world. There are many arguments here but Lauren and I have come up with a few points for both sides of the media exclusivity debate:


  • Companies pay for exclusive sponsorships/advertising – The SEC wants viewers to tune into ESPN and make their advertisement rates appealing to companies. Sure, companies that are on Twitter can tweet about the SEC games, give away prizes and show pictures – but they have to link to picture and interviews provided by media and SEC.
  • The media – Current outlets will have an exclusive right to report and share media, while not having to compete with social networks and the thousands of citizen journalists that reside there.


  • Fans won’t go to games – Not only will fans just update and tweet if they aren’t ticketed, the SEC might lose out on ticket sales. This could be detrimental in the sports realm. Can you imagine a school such as LSU enforcing this, and what their alumni base will say? A big part of SEC schools are their alumni support, which comes from…you guessed it: sporting events.
  • Backlash from actual policing – Trying to police social media use within a stadium, such as the Florida Gators who host around 90,000 fans, is a ludicrous thought in its own. But what happens when fans are ‘caught’ live-tweeting or taking pictures of events? Are they kicked out? Mobile devices taken away? Wherever that line is drawn, the outcome of reprimanding your fan-base, those very people who support you on a daily basis, will not be pretty and have a lasting negative effect.

There could be compromises from both parties, such as having the SEC’s own social media team create the media that can then be shared and reproduced by their fan-base – but anything short of deleting this policy would not only create a larger uproar online, but would alienate many SEC supporters.

Lauren and I could add even more points to this issue, but we wanna hear from you? What other pros & cons could you add to our list? Is the SEC in the right about this, or will they drive fans away?

Let us know what you think!

Update: The SEC has posted this on Twitter, saying they’re working to clarify their policy. We’ll update you when they’ve released this change.

Update 2: Here’s the revision to the policy via Mashable. To sum it up, they’ve realized that they can’t force fans to not use social media at games, thus allowing it, so long it’s not for commercial or business use – aka making a profit from the event. Win-win for everybody, here. Big ups to SEC for turning this around into a compromise that benefits both parties.

21 comments On Social Media Vs. Media Exclusivity

  • This screams unenforceable to me. I cannot imagine a scenario where security swoops in and starts confiscating Iphones. That won’t work well for ANYONE. So I will continue to stand on the sidelines and act like the new rule is full of sound and fury signifying nothing except for the most extreme situations (like live streaming an event, and posting up highlights immediately following the play)

  • This is a very far-ranging issue, particularly within the NCAA and its member conferences. Coming from a former collegiate athletics PR background, I know full well that the NCAA doesn’t exactly have the best relationship with its fans when it comes to social engagement, technology and really anything in the 21st Century.

    Essentially, from a college athletics standpoint, this issue boils down to two issues: 1) Each member school within the NCAA and each conference technically does own the rights to any dissemination of its events. That’s part of its contract with the NCAA. So the school controls when, how and where the information is disseminated. This issue, like you mentioned, could be taken care of by having each member school’s PR/media relations office create the social media content, and then allow its fans to send out that information at will.

    The second major issue in this is a privacy/scholarship concern. And to be honest, it’s pretty flimsy. But it does have some merit. The NCAA, with its 1950s beliefs that all athletes are still completely amateurs and would NEVER (sarcasm) violate the terms of their scholarship agreements, believes that fans, the media, sponsors, agents etc. should not be allowed to take advantage of them by sending out what could be considered private information (e.g. player XYZ just went down in practice with what looks like a torn knee … sent via Twitter). OK, that’s fair enough. But it’s incredibly out-dated, and much better system would be to actually educate student-athletes and coaches on the benefits and concerns of social media and how to best leverage SM to their benefit and to the benefit of their school/employer.

    Hope that helps shed some light on this issue, at least from a college athletics perspective. To be honest, this issue is fairly straight-forward from a PR/social media perspective, but unfortunately, when dealing with the NCAA and some of its major sports schools, nothing is ever easy or common sense. There are a few valid concerns here, but nothing to the extent that these extreme measures need to be taken.

    Keith Trivitt

  • ‘Fans’ who would watch a game only on twitter or a social media site are not true fans at all. They are not spending money on merch, on season tickets, or on anything else. If you mean to tell me when I went to Ohio State that I could sit home on my computer and watch 140ch updates of a game at the shoe, or I could pay $30 and walk 2 minutes to the game, here’s my $30 dollars.

    Social media gives people the way to follow the game if they aren’t there. I use it with the National Premier Soccer League so that I can follow all of the matches around the country when I’m not there. But to think that someone stayed at home on purpose because of this is far fetched IMO.

    The last con is exactly right. They can’t have ushers stopping people from bringing in a flask of alcohol to games, and they are going to police 90,000 people on their cell phones. Good luck.

  • Hey Keith,

    I was recruited for NCAA, and even though I had a career ending injury before season started – you’re exactly right on the rules and regulations for athletes. But that’s for athletes. I would hope that fans (esp. in a conference like the SEC) would be open to fans sending updates during games. Those that aren’t ticketed can. How will they know if you’re ticketed? I could pretend I’m at a bar watching the game, right?

  • This sounds like an out-of-touch and ridiculous policy. I agree that it doesn’t seem possible to enforce such rules with any degree of success.

    What is telling to me is what was stated in the article, “A conference spokesman said this policy was meant to try to keep as many eyeballs as possible on ESPN and CBS — which are paying the SEC $3 billion for the broadcast rights…” Perhaps this was the weak and misguided attempt by the SEC to show their media sponsors that the conference will do what it can to keep people watching the outlets for event info.

  • Nice try dinos. This policy was dead before it was even uttered. It’s impossible to enforce, could lead to isolation of the SEC and will do nothing then catch the era of a few internet marketers like those commenting here.

    I doubt little will change as a result of this proposed policy.

  • @Ryan – Exactly, Ryan. It’s not so much as a replacement for fans (though some can’t always watch games, like Premier League matches), but it’s a way to share and connect from an offline event and into the online world. Realization that we’re not always going to go to CNN or ESPN to get our information is something the SEC and other organizations are slowly realizing. They’ll be hard-pressed to try to ‘slow down’ this process by implementing such policies as the SEC has (for now).

  • Stuart – Exactly. I also wonder if they will realize this when they play a non-SEC opponent – not only will they see the fan support, but can they enforce it for an opposing team?

  • Wow. I hadn’t seen this story until this post. Thanks for doing it, guys. I, like you, find it hard to believe how this is even remotely enforceable, but let’s assume for the moment that it is. Our thirst for information should not supercede the right of the school, NCAA and contracted media outlets to disseminate the information. They have a contractual right to do whatever they want with the content. If they want to bar people from using Twitter, who am I to judge (I think it’s stupid, btw)? We, as the users of social media, have very few rights in this case.

    If I could toss out another suggestion…what were to happen if a professional conference organizer said no tweeting during conference festivities? Isn’t that the same thing? They want you to come and pay for the conference, not “mooch” off of the people that did.

  • The bottom line is this. You WILL NEVER get the same experience from sitting at your computer watching a live blog or something tweeting at a game. When will they realize that this is something that the teams should be doing to help their fans who are not at the game for whatever reason (traveling, out of the area, working, etc).

    This is something that can be embraced and leveraged to their advantage. But instead they make decisions such as this that cannot be enforced and make them look as if they don’t get it.

    @chuck. But what are you really getting out of it. Anything? You aren’t there, you aren’t listening, networking. You are simply reading someone’s 140ch. That is not enough to get anything tangible out of it. You need to interact with someone and be in the loop in order to really take anything away from a conference. If anything, if I saw some tweets about an interesting conference I was not at, I’d put it on my list of things to go to for next year.

  • @Chuck – You make some interesting arguments. If this were asked of us at a conference, it would be thought of in the same light and probably easier to enforce. Would it be more accepting? I think so. Live-tweeting/blogging at conferences has always been an issue of concern, as many feel you’re missing what the event is about.

    But, though we may be asked to do so in respect of the speakers, how much coverage/promotion and blog posts would that conference lose out on if they did refuse the use of SM? Is enforcement of such a rule beneficial to the event and its speakers or are they losing out on larger opportunities from these SM avenues?

  • Reading over the comments in here, and I wanted to add my thoughts again on something about the NCAA. Stuart, you are exactly right: this policy was dead before the memo was even sent out to each SEC school. Does anyone remember the whole NCAA blogging fiasco of about 3 years ago when the NCAA tried to ban journalists (and anyone else for that matter) from blogging at NCAA postseason events? Yeah, this is the same NCAA and its member conferences at work again.

    Bottom line: the NCAA, like many other major organizations, will do anything, anything to protect its brand and image, and the sad fact is that even in 2009, will a great deal of research and public sentiment shows that by allowing your public and your fans to engage with you and to help you shape your brand’s/organization’s image, you can do MORE to cultivate a strong and resilient public image, the NCAA is still stuck believing this isn’t the case. I know a lot of people who work at the NCAA’s offices, as well as at the SEC and some of its schools, and they are all great people and very smart at what they do (and yes, the NCAA does have a social media department, and it does fantastic work … check out the “NCAA DoubleA Zone”), and I can almost guarantee you they are adamantly against this new rule.

    But the NCAA, like so many others, is a very top-down organization. Someone high up in the SEC probably made this rule, and now, the backlash is only just beginning.

  • Sonny and Ryan – Ultimately, I agree with you. The SEC’s ruling is totally unforceable. If an SM conference were to try and end live-tweeting/blogging it would certainly go over like a lead baloon. That being said, I think i’d want my conference attendees to be focused on the conference and not on their next tweet. Similar thing at a football game.

  • Chuck – I really don’t think that will be a problem. I’ve gone to many SEC games – when would I have time to tweet? Those games are loud and intense – and people are always cheering. I think I’d be more focused on the game even if there wasn’t a rule.

    I think they can regulate players, coaches, etc. – those are people that work or play for the SEC. But the fans? I understand exclusive – as seen above – but I don’t think they’ll be able to pull it off.

    Biting off more than they can chew.

  • ITA re: Enforcement is almost impossible and live feeds are not the same as watching or being there. This is someone’s overreaction, thinking their money (ad revenue) is threatened by a loss of viewers b/c eyes will turn to Twitter and Facebook instead of the game or TV.

    Who says they are mutually exclusive?

    While someone may be trapped in a black hole with nothing but their cell phone to update them, I would guess a lot of folks watching the SM streams are ALSO watching the game on ESPN, CBS, or web like ESPN 360; “participating” in the event in a bar, at work or at home since they can’t be there in person.

    During the CWS the LSU faithful had a blast tweeting about the games, making the trending topics; football coach Les Miles even got into the act, tweeting from the stands (though he probably won’t be tweeting from the sidelines this fall). At home I had fun watching on TV, cheering and Tweeting them to victory. 🙂

    So someone is going to try and stop folks from updating their FB status with “having fun at ‘Bama home opener” and a picture? Good luck with that. This could get interesting (and ugly). FWIW.

  • Sure they have the right…but that doesn’t make it right, or smart. Seriously? They want people to focus on the game? It’s pretty hard to focus on anything else when you’re at a game. When I go to a game, I may take one or two random pictures and tweet them out. Maybe share some thoughts throughout the game, but in general, I’m completely focused on the game.

    Fans aren’t there to report on the game…they share info online because they’re excited about their experiences and want to let others know what a great time they’re having. They actually make people who aren’t there JEALOUS because they’re having such a good time. Why in the world would you want to ban that?

    They’re worried about people video taping the game? Well that has never really been allowed. This isn’t a change. If they see someone sitting there with a video camera the whole time, they can ask them to stop. If they’re using equipment good enough to record video that people actually enjoy watching, it will probably be easy to find the guy with the big camera.

    Just seems like the people making decisions over there are very out of touch with reality, and as Stuart said, reality will win out. This won’t change much.


  • @David – great points here, David. And you’re exactly right, we’re not trying to be citizen journalists, per se, we’re just looking to share and connect with those in our community who may not be at the game or those who just love sports in general. It’s not taking away from ESPN or CBS, IMO, it’s only enhancing what the SEC and the teams aren’t doing in this space.

  • It’s absurd.

    David hit it on the head:

    “Fans aren’t there to report on the game…they share info online because they’re excited about their experiences and want to let others know what a great time they’re having. They actually make people who aren’t there JEALOUS because they’re having such a good time. Why in the world would you want to ban that?”

    And there’s no way they’ll be able to enforce this. Are they really saying I can’t take a picture of me and my boys at the game and put it on Facebook? No way to enforce, and people definitely won’t police themselves on this.

  • I think commenters are drifting away from the point here. All that’s being talked about here is Twitter, which is surely the least of the SEC’s worries. No one has the potential of making a profit by live-Tweeting the play-by-play (I agree with everyone… why would anyone even want to do that?)

    What the NCAA is likely attempting to do here is control who can profit from their events. They recognized a possible threat from bloggers taking media attention away from those who have paid good money for access to game media.

    If you haven’t noticed, things are changing very fast in the social media world. But businesses still need to make money, so I think we’re going to see a lot of these (admittedly unenforceable) rules popping up… just for the sake of having them.

    Chew on this: If the music industry didn’t push for p2p file sharing being declared illegal, how much MORE of their bottom line would they have lost? It’s something that’s needed to prevent social media from overtaking all things profitable.

  • @Kyle – well it’s Twitter in addition to video that is recorded at the events. That’s where the problem of fans taking away from traditional media falls. Even so, video or pictures of a touchdown or halftime show isn’t going to take away from their profits and that’s not the intention of the fans either. It’s about the experience and being able to share it. The SM world is definitely changing fast and the SEC realizes this and are trying to postpone it, if anything.

    They’re afraid that SM is going to take over, but it’s not. Just like within your own business or agency, it’s becoming an extension of what everyone does, not a new all-around solution.

  • Hey guys – I saw an update this morning from @SECSportsUpdate that they are working on clarifying their policy. It will be interesting to see what they do.

    Hey Kyle – I think we were using Twitter as an update because it’s easier for our mass audience to see. Of course there are other avenues – but I think both Sonny and I have the mindset of all avenues being addressed in comments, not just the post.

    Thanks for reading. 🙂

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