Earlier this month, college football’s Southeastern Conference (SEC), released a policy that would have effectively banned social media from all sporting events at conference schools. The overall policy was most likely meant to help the conference keep lucritive exclusivity contracts with media outlets like ESPN for all of its games; but was so broadly written that it banned just about any communication in any form about the game without permission. The original policy basically stated that ticket holders could not:
“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.”
Due to a tremendous uproar over the policy by the media, fans, and free speech advocates, the SEC decided to revise the original proposal and posted the new guidelines earlier this week. The revision states that:
“No Bearer may produce or disseminate in any form a “real-time” description or transmission of the Event (i) for commercial or business use, or (ii) in any manner that constitutes, or is intended to provide or is promoted or marketed as, a substitute for radio, television or video coverage of such Event. Personal messages and updates of scores or other brief descriptions of the competition throughout the Event are acceptable. If the SEC deems that a Bearer is producing a commercial or real-time description of the Event, the SEC reserves the right to pursue all available remedies against the Bearer. Absent the prior written permission of the Southeastern Conference, game action videos of the Event may not be taken by Bearer. Photos of the Event may be taken by Bearer and distributed solely for personal use (and such photographs shall not be licensed, used, or sold commercially, or used for any commercial or business purpose).”
While this revision is a good step in the right direction, by now allowing fans to update things like Twitter and Facebook updates, it still is missing the point to all the uproar. I believe that people understand the SEC’s need to try and keep their exclusivity agreements. I think where people have the hardest time understanding this is how the SEC, in a sense, is comparing the video camera built into an iPhone and access to a Facebook account with the 5-15 HD broadcast cameras, production truck, satellite feeds, and on-screen talent/commentary that ESPN or CBS are using and providing. Being a college football fan myself, I can not imagine trying to watch a game or its highlights from someone’s cell phone video camera. Nor would I decide to skip watching a televised game because someone would be providing updates via a Twitter feed. If anything, any kind of interesting highlight, post, or Tweet about what’s happening in the game would make me want turn on the TV to watch. Bottom line, I think this policy came out of confusion and a basic misunderstanding of social media, its purpose, strengths, capabilities, and issues.
Some Organizations Are Doing It Right
When I think of sports organizations using social media to maximize their reach and audience, two particularly stick out. The first, oddly enough, is one of the SEC’s neighbor conferences The Big Ten. If you take a look at the Big Ten page or any of the schools in the Big 10 (University of Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, etc.), you will find their athletic programs are fairly active in social media. A good example of this are all the official Twitter accounts for the individual schools and fans that are listed on The Big Ten Network’s site or the official accounts listed directly on the Big Ten’s main site.
When thinking about sports organizations who are using social media to their advantage, the other one that sticks out to me are the New York Islanders and the NYI Blog Box. Basically, in 2007, the New York Islanders decided to create an opportunity for avid fans to be able to blog and talk about their team to increase the overall coverage of the team from a fan’s perspective. One thing that made this effort unique was in how the Islanders treated those selected to be a part of the Blog Box. These bloggers were given press credentials, placed in their own special section of the arena, and even given the ability to interview players and coaches after the game. While the bloggers were not allowed to blog live from the game, this still opened up an opportunity and showed that the Islanders encouraged this kind of communication via a social media tool. This is a quote from one of the fans turned blogger from the Islanders’ web site:
“Blogging as a function is actually the voice of the people, so, as Islander fans, we’re serving not only to entertain the fan base, but also to represent it,” said Dee Karl, author of the Unique Perspectives of the 7th Women blog. “It’s more work than I ever expected, but more fun than I could have ever imagined. It’s bridged the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and really has made us ‘all Islanders.’”
How the SEC and Other Sports Organizations Could Use Social Media During Live Events
No matter which way you look at it, social media and social networking are completely changing how people interact with their world and those around them. While there are a lot of growing pains that will take place, I believe that eventually most or all businesses (including sports organizations and even traditional media) will have to embrace and use social media to increase the overall engagement of their customers, clients, and fans. Instead of trying to stop the inevitable in this case, the SEC could have been very creative and come up with a few different ways to encourage fan participation using social media tools while still maintaining their media contracts.
Encouraging Use of Status Updates on Twitter and Facebook
As I mentioned before, there are not too many sports fan that I know (me included) who would rather watch updates from a game through someone’s Twitter feed or their Facebook status updates. If I was working on something else during a game and wasn’t able to view it live but saw someone Tweet about how Michigan scored an amazing touchdown or how close the game was, you can bet I would be doing everything I could to get to a television to watch. So by encouraging a fan in the stadium to Tweet, they just got another television viewer that ESPN and CBS can serve ads to.
Have “Guest Commentary” During the Game
Another way to use the tools and social media in a somewhat controlled environment would be to create a mobile website or mobile app that allowed fans to video record themselves with their phones doing commentary or talking about a highlight that just happened. This 30 second to 1 minute video would post on the site for viewing and would invite their friends to check them out talking about a highlight like the last touchdown. This could also be expanded into a contest where there would be voting on the best commentary for each game with prizes like free tickets, trip to a bowl game, etc. The end all benefit to this would be not only increasing fan engagement, but also bringing valuable metrics and exposure to people who may not have watched the game to begin with.
Live Interaction Using SMS
To increase live interaction during the game, they could post polling questions on the best play that quarter or have live voting for the “Fan Choice MVP” on the main scoreboard video screen. Fans present at the stadium would text in their votes using a special code or message using their cell phone. This would give fans a way to interact live with the event and those around them while also allowing the organization to capture valuable metrics and user information.
Calling An Audible and Moving Forward
As I mentioned in the last section, social media is drastically changing how consumers are interacting with companies and their world. This, both fortunately and unfortunately, is going to inevitably force businesses and organizations to ‘call an audible’ and change how they typically approach consumers or get pushed out of the way by those organizations that will. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I think the SEC revising their policy is a good step in the right direction, but they really need to take a cue from the Big Ten and engage their audience instead of trying to impose almost completely unenforceable rules on them. Because in this new social media world, it will be the consumer who decides who wins and loses in the end.