The NFL is back, and really, we couldn't be more happy with everything surrounding it.
(For more information, check our Pat Kirwan's column on NFL.com – where football lives online.)
The New England Patriots ™ open their preseason schedule tonight against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ™ at Raymond James Stadium ® in Florida. You'll even be able to watch the game on TV and listen to it via FM radio, which really, you should be ultimately grateful for. (Editor's note: This comment is solely the expression of the author and in no way expresses the thoughts of this online entity.)
When it comes to controlling the distribution of product, no other sports league has made more unreasonable restrictions than the National Football League ™. With its inane 45 second/24 hour rule for online video, the instant dominance of the NFL Network ™, or forcing sideline photographers to wear vests emblazoned with corporate logos, Roger Goodell's league has made not-so-great strides at streamlining public perception into one, nice, tidy little package. Theirs.
(Get the exclusive training camp T-shirt for just $19.95 on Patriots.com today.)
As part of its effort to restrict online video, the NFL ™ instituted a rule this offseason that no independent news web site may post player interviews of more than 45 seconds. These clips also have a shelf life of 24 hours, and must include a link to NFL.com ™ (Haven't started a fantasy league yet? Go to NFL.com to begin yours today.) or the team's individual web site, where you can watch more of Player X's ramblings about how good he feels about this team, yadda, etc. Freedom of the press be damned.
You know what 45 seconds of a Bill Belichick press conference gets you? No more than 24 minutes would, but that's beside the point.
The NFL's ™ decision-making sets a dangerous precedent (author opinion) in the way information and thought is disseminated, and even scarier is that other sports leagues are keeping a watchful eye on the process. This season, only a limited number of local TV stations will have access to the sidelines at Patriots ™ games, creating a “See No Evil, Speak No Evil” sort of tryout for all those involved this summer. Want to take pictures for your local newspaper? Well then, they'll only use you as their guinea pig, forcing (Editor's note: requesting) you to wear a vest that doubles as an advertisement for Reebok and Canon. Just think, that individual vest you're wearing probably netted the league five or six times what you'll make that afternoon snapping pictures. Ah, isn't journalism fun?
NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello has argued that some newspapers were seeing online video as a business venture and not as an extension of news coverage, which is truly a statement of folly. Does Boston.com sell ads that play prior to online videos? Sure. But it's not like the Patriots story in that morning's paper doesn't have an ad wrapped around it. It's as if the Internet is the Wild West, where everyone assumes their own rules and tries to get everyone to abide by them in a world of chaos.
We are creeping ever closer to the day when the NFL ™ has no need for traditional media coverage, if we're not already there. Between the team sites, the NFL Network ™ and access like Comcast's Patriots On Demand ™, there is seemingly no need to check out other entities, and when the NFL ™ and teams control that access and property to this degree, people eventually will figure out that lack of content on one end, and the burst of it on the other.
And let's be clear on this. This is not a matter of journalists losing. It's a matter of everybody losing, no matter how many press-bashers won't admit it.
"This is important to people who want access to multiple sources of information and want to hear independent voices with a range of insights rather than just the official reports of the team or the league," Wendy Seltzer, a visiting professor at Northeastern University School of Law and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School told the Globe's Bob Hohler last week.
"The public benefits from a richer stream of information. Maybe we, as a public, should demand greater access."
But it appears that's exactly what the NFL ™ does not want to deliver its millions of fans. By controlling access to the product, the league is one step closer to a sports dictatorship. Why risk a critical press when you can present your players in the most genial way possible? (Patriots Football Network brings you all the latest news on your favorite football players. Watch now on Patriots.com.) The NFL Network ™ has grown impressively in just three seasons, and threatens the networks with the ability to take its entire “properties” in house if it so chooses.
And while we're on the topic of the NFL Network™, I'd just like to thank Comcast for ripping it off the basic tier in order to force its customers to pay for a sports tier including the Tennis Channel, and not just the Horseracing Network, but Horseracing TV. Awesome. All for another $60 a year, as if your service weren't already costing my future child a chance at university. Oh look, there's that cute little guy again on TV talking about true QAM and Fios.
“There isn't much newspapers can do by way of protest,” writes The Wall Street Journal's Jason Fry. “Given all the other sources for NFL news, a boycott would hurt papers far more than the NFL. Granted, sometimes the league will want maximum exposure -- for a story about players helping their communities or a coach's charity, for instance. If newspaper Web sites have been sidelined by the league's own media policy, why should they help out? Then there's the question of whether the always image-conscious NFL can cover itself -- will fans get unbiased news from team sites in good times and bad?”
Fry goes on to write that the NFL ™ has no limit on reporters speaking on camera about the teams, which is awfully nice of them not to take that God-given right away. They'll even allow folks to write things about them, even critical (Editor's note: Within reason) and won't pose a limit on players interviewed off grounds. So if I talk to Tedy Bruschi in front of a pickup at Rodman's Ford, I can post the entire interview online. If I do it in the Gillette Stadium ® parking lot, 45 seconds buddy. You can begin to see where this whole thing makes a lot of sense.
I for one welcome our new overlords.
(For postgame reaction and highlights following tonight's game, log onto Patriots.com.)
Thank you, NFL. The American media looks forward to being your minions.