ND Athletics: Changing regulations
Ken Fowler | Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Subscribers to Notre Dame recruiting Web sites used to enjoy the privilege of downloading unabridged, 60-minute press conferences with Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis. But as spring football practices begin today, an hour with Weis has become “Three Minutes with Charlie.”
IrishIllustrated.com, a member of the Rivals.com recruiting network, is calling video highlights from press conferences just that, as Web sites are now packaging highlights of Weis’ press conferences into condensed versions for viewers after the University announced new restrictions for media covering Notre Dame sports.
Notre Dame assistant athletic director John Heisler called the policy change part of a larger plan to increase the quality and traffic of Notre Dame’s official athletics Web site.
But Jack Freeman, publisher of IrishIllustrated.com, saw the policy change differently.
“Their issue is that … Irish Illustrated is making money by showing this, and [Notre Dame] wants to make money by showing this, too,” Freeman said.
On both IrishIllustrated.com and IrishEyes.com, a member of the Scout.com recruiting network, most videos are limited to only those users who pay a monthly or annual fee.
Subscribers to both IrishIllustrated.com and IrishEyes.com pay $99.95 a year or $9.95 a month. Freeman said the athletic department was trying to direct traffic away from his and other Web sites toward the official Notre Dame site (und.com), which offers viewers an “All-Access Pass” for $6.95 a month that allows subscribers live streaming video and audio of Notre Dame sporting events.
At issue specifically is the emergence of recruiting Web sites that record entire press conferences and offer them to subscribers on the Internet, Heisler said. Now, those same sites will be limited to three minutes of “highlights” of all Notre Dame athletics press conferences, including Weis’ press conferences that occur three times per week during football season.
Heisler said the move was less about public relations in regard to potential recruits and the recruiting sites and more about the University’s rights to the press conferences.
“I’m not sure we think that people should just be able to come in and copy and essentially duplicate any sort of a press conference and just throw it up [on the Internet],” Heisler said. “There ought to be some journalism involved here.”
The athletic department released notice to media Jan. 31 – prior to national signing day – that there would be new restrictions on the ability of recruiting Web sites and traditional media outlets to reproduce videos and transcripts of Irish press conferences. Tuesday’s annual spring football media day was the first major press event since national signing day.
“Any media entity collecting any sort of video or audio materials … from University of Notre Dame Athletics press conference events may use that material only within a seven-day period following the event … with a limitation of up to three minutes in length from any single event,” the Jan. 31 statement said.
The statement sparked criticism and concern among members of the Internet media who cover the press conferences, who feel their subscribers will miss out on important and relevant information.
“We’re disappointed that they’re not allowing all their fans to watch [the press conferences] on our site,” said Freeman, whose site began uploading Weis’ press conferences in 2005. “The second thing is, it sort of strikes me as a bad PR move on Notre Dame’s part because they’re limiting putting out one of their greatest spokesman, Charlie Weis, in front of recruits and fans on our site.”
But if the video is available on und.com, as Heisler said may happen, Notre Dame will be able to profit from the video as well as offering it to Irish fans.
Heisler said the University likely will not enforce the seven-day rule, but it specifically wants to apply the rules governing the broadcast rights television stations withhold to Notre Dame press conferences.
“Our feeling is in the same sense NBC has some rights to our football games in the video end, I don’t know if that’s any different for a thing like a press conference,” Heisler said. “That’s kind of a Notre Dame event; it’s a Notre Dame athletic event. … There may be some rights issues in these things that nobody ever really thought of before.”
He said full video of one-on-one interviews with players and coaches are exempt from the new limitations.
Mike Frank, who runs IrishEyes.com, the first site to offer video downloads of press conferences in 2004, said he understands where the University is coming from, as press conference clips have become a staple in sports journalism and on recruiting Web sites.
“I think like everybody, you’re a little disappointed; but at the same time, I fully understand why they did it,” Frank said. “I tend to agree with him [on extending the principle of the 3-minute rule to the press conferences].
Freeman saw the issue differently.
“Prior to this change in policy, they were selling access to … sporting events,” Freeman said, referring to the “All Access Pass” on und.com that allows subscribers to watch live streams of Irish sports games in conjunction with College Sports Television Network. “Now they’re taking a press conference to essentially a news gathering event. And I think that’s what the problem is. … I think on one hand limiting access to a sporting event is fine obviously once the policy is in place, but a news event or a press conference, I can’t agree with applying the same logic.”
Heisler said the athletic department focused on the competition between und.com and other Web sites when making the decision
“With these other events, there’s a commodity of some sort,” Heisler said. “We’re running a Web site as well, so we would like to drive traffic there. Our feeling is, particularly in terms of a press conference, … everybody is welcome to cover it, but if you want to see the full-blown transcription or if you want to watch the whole thing, then our site ought to be the place to find that.”
Frank said the athletic department is probably implementing a policy that many schools eventually will.
“Notre Dame is probably just thinking ahead of the curve on this, and pretty soon you’re going to see [most other colleges] doing something very, very similar – because [press conference video] is a product, and it’s a good product.”
Heisler said he did not know of other schools that had a similar policy but figured many would follow suit.
Kenny Mossman, associate athletic director for communications at Oklahoma, said that his department has limited what recruiting Web sites can and cannot reproduce from press conferences for over a year.
“Like Notre Dame, we need to protect our media rights,” he said in a telephone interview with The Observer. “I think you have to stay ahead of the curve.”
Unlike Notre Dame and several other schools, however, Mossman said Oklahoma does not view recruiting Web sites in the same light as traditional print, television and radio media.
Justin Dougherty, director of sports information at the University of Wisconsin said Wisconsin classifies the recruiting Web sites in the same category as newspapers and television stations.
“Those organizations cover our football programs on a regular basis, they cover our home games, travel [to away games], and interview our players,” Dougherty said. “I view them as a legitimate media outlet in that regard.”
Dougherty said no television stations or Web sites have attempted to record and distribute entire press conferences, but he expects that might change in the future.
“It hasn’t been an issue here,” he said. “The conversation hasn’t even taken place.”
Wisconsin’s situation is similar to that of Boston College. Chris Cameron, associate athletics director for media relations at Boston College, said the issue has not arisen there either and that his staff has not discussed the possible ramifications of Web sites redistributing entire press conferences.
“The Internet has created both new opportunities and challenges for everyone in intercollegiate athletics,” Cameron said in an e-mail. “I’m sure the Notre Dame staff has been challenged more than most. We all must re-evaluate our priorities and policies from time to time. The ND staff has to do what they feel is in the best interest of the program.”
At Southern California, the athletic department has not had to deal with recruiting Web sites recording video of press conferences, but sports information director Tim Tessalone said the school has a general policy in place.
“With the institutional Web sites and premium services, a lot of the content that goes up there is press conference [material],” Tessalone said.
Whereas Notre Dame’s new policy prohibits re-broadcasting but allows for live feeds with the written consent of the athletic department, Tessalone said USC might ban both. He said Southern California often has small portions of football press conferences broadcast live on channels run by ESPN, but the issue of full broadcasts has not arisen.
“If someone wanted to do the whole press conference live, I think we would have an issue with that,” he said. “That’s why we put it up on our Web site on a live stream.”
Freeman said he worries that Notre Dame’s policy may become the standard across the NCAA.
“I think if Notre Dame is successful in generating revenues from this, people will jump on it,” he said.
Tessalone did not say if Notre Dame’s case would be used as a precedent, but he did predict other universities to institute similar policies.
“What Notre Dame is doing makes perfect sense,” he said. “What Notre Dame is doing is what I expect a lot of places to do in the future.
Freeman said he agreed and worried that other schools will follow suit because of his doubts about the legal logic behind the policy change.
Heisler said the athletic department did not consult with University lawyers specifically about this issue but based its decision on past discussions between colleges and the legal field over the issue of protected content.
“There’s an awful lot of people who are more experts from the legal end and the rights end that are sort of telling institutions that historically we haven’t done a good enough job at protecting our own rights to certain things,” he said.
Heisler said Notre Dame has worked mainly with Collegiate Images, a Florida-based company whose objective is to become a clearinghouse of photographs and video from collegiate athletic events, in regard to issues of legality and rights.
“They have helped us extensively as far as some of the language [we use] to make it clear what ability you have to use material that you obtain at a game,” Heisler said. “We wrote it, and we ran it past them just to ask for some advice. It was more a matter of just trying to set the table and figure out how we can work this out.”
For IrishEyes.com, Frank said the policy changes have had no adverse effect on his relationship with the athletic department.
“I like to think I have a good relationship with Notre Dame,” he said. “On my end, as far as my thoughts are on it, yeah, I think we have an excellent relationship.”
Frank said he will continue to produce full video of player interviews and clips from spring practices, as well as abridged versions of the press conferences.
“I don’t think it’s every opportunity for us that’s being taken away; it’s mainly just those press conferences,” he said. “We’ll also be able to videotape our interviews we have with players, and so as long as we are able to do some of those things, I think that’s a good thing.”
Heisler said those videos are not being restricted because the athletic department was mainly concerned with the unabridged nature of the press conference videos.
“I think we’re looking at mostly the large settings, especially with Charlie Weis,” Heisler said. “Those are the things we were seeing pop up in their entirety.
“These guys who are doing a one-on-one interview with somebody, we’re not worried about that. That’s their own enterprise.”
Though he disagrees with the policy, Freeman said IrishIllustrated.com will continue to work in good spirit with the athletic department.
“We’ve expressed concerns, and we understand the policy,” Freeman said. “We fully intend, of course to go along with those policies.”