I admit it. I love professional sports. Football, baseball, tennis, beach volleyball, hockey, soccer, X-Games, whatever. I'm there. But increasingly, I feel like I may have to abandon the NFL and the MLB. These two moneymaking machines seem completely bent on ruining sports for sports fans--and the intersection of sports and technology is getting particularly bloody.
Here's the news that has my NFL hackles up today: the league is attempting to put restrictions on what newspapers, blogs, and other media outlets can publish online on game day. From the Kansas City Star story:
"The NFL contends anything that happens on game day is proprietary to the league and its rights holders, NBC, CBS, FOX, and ESPN."
And: "'My nightmare scenario is 10, 20 years from now, you will not be able to cover the NFL unless you pay a rights fee,' said David Elfin of the Washington Times and president of the Pro Football Writers of America."
Elfin, it's all too possible. The NFL is, unbelievably, attempting to argue that events that happen involving football players on game day--whether those events happen at press conferences, during practice, or during the actual game (they also won't allow game-day video to be posted on Web sites on the same day as the game)--is owned by some television outlet somewhere. So, you, the fan, have limited access to information about the players and the game itself online, regardless of whether you can even watch a specific televised game in your area and regardless of whether you're making a game-time decision about starting this player or that player in your fantasy league, so that the NFL can continue its cushy, multibillion-dollar deals with its "rights-holders" and so it can, most likely, package up all its game-day interview footage and postgame videos and sell it as one big fat "new media" package to the exclusive outlet with the most millions.
Setting aside the generally disturbing First Amendment and freedom of the press issues I have with this whole thing (I'm sorry, the NFL can prohibit Web sites from publishing information? Since whose Constitution, again?), I just simply can't take the arrogant, money-grubbing, antifan behavior of professional sports leagues anymore! Every move they make is designed to undermine a fan's enjoyment of what used to be called a game! You have TV blackouts, you have ESPN-friendly scheduling that has, say, East Coast fans going to a game that starts at 9 p.m. ET. You have the NFL Sunday Ticket, exclusive to DirecTV, for $250 a season, which shows four games a week in HD unless you're willing to pay another $99 a year for the "SuperFan" package. And now, you have an out-and-out assault by pro sports on new media. As technology flourishes, big industries can't help but try to smack it down.
The NFL's latest assault on online publishing is just the most recent of many offenses. Recently, Major League Baseball tried to argue that users of Slingbox shouldn't be allowed to stream baseball games from their home televisions (using service they've already paid for) in order to watch games while they're traveling. So, if you're an Oakland A's fan (and who isn't?) and a Slingbox user, and you're on the road to, say, Atlanta, MLB says you should not be allowed to stream the A's game to your laptop in your Atlanta hotel room. Why? Because MLB has perfectly good deals with Atlanta TV affiliates, and you're taking revenue away from them by not watching the game on TV in Atlanta. Never mind that the game's not on in Atlanta, and that you already paid to watch the game in Oakland! (Oh, and did I mention that the MLB also offers its own online game-streaming subscription package?)
In other MLB high jinks, the league also recently "pulled" its podcast clips from iTunes, because it wanted more control over how the podcasts were promoted. Awesomely, in this case, MLB seems to simply not understand that anyone can subscribe to a podcast using any RSS aggregator, and so, anyone who's subscribed to MLB through iTunes will continue to receive it through iTunes, and anyone with access to the RSS feed can use iTunes to subscribe anew. Nevertheless, if you go searching for MLB podcasts on iTunes, you won't find them, because MLB took its ball and went home.
The NHL struck a deal with Comcast to stream hockey games...to Comcast subscribers only. (Seriously, doesn't the NHL need all the exposure it can get?) And you think it's just pro sports? Oh, no. It happens at the college level, too. ESPN's streaming services, ESPN360, is available only if your ISP has paid to subscribe to it, much like a cable provider would have to pay to broadcast the ESPN channel itself. As a result, Syracuse University students recently found out that they couldn't watch their school play rival Wake Forest either online or on television, because their cable provider, Time Warner, doesn't carry the ESPNU channel, and Time Warner also won't pay to get ESPN360.
And actually, some 14.5 million Time Warner customers nationwide won't be watching the NFL Network anymore, after the cable provider refused to meet the NFL's demand for $100 million in fees, which would have raised some cable subscribers' monthly costs by up to a buck per bill, regardless of whether they even watch football. I'm not exactly holding my breath for the day when ABC or NBC puts up free, ad-supported, online reruns of games like they do with Desperate Housewives or The Office. Har-har.
So, what part of this is good for the fan, again? Ticket prices: through the roof. Televised games: total crapshoot. Heaven help you if you're a hockey fan during baseball playoff season. Professional athletes: overpaid, spoiled, badly behaved, ditching out on education for the big bucks, and frankly, lacking any passion or visible love of the game due to just being soulless, team-hopping, spoiled brats. Professional sports leagues: controlling, money-grubbing, antifan conglomerates with the ruthless business savvy of any other hugely successful multinational. Technology: caught in the middle, as usual, potentially suspended and even retarded by conflicting business interests. Me: in need of another hobby, apparently.