News Media vs. The Leagues: The Battle Continues
If you've been wondering how that West Indies-Australia cricket test series has been going, you won't be able to find out by reading the Toronto Star. Nor will you be able to get results from any other Canadian newspaper.(For those who haven't been able to find out what's happening, the second test ended in a draw Tuesday.)
The reason you can't get newspaper coverage here is that the never-ending battle between mainstream news outlets and sports leagues has been ratcheted up once again. At issue are Cricket Australia's demands for accreditation, which offended the likes of The Associated Press so much that the news outlet has pulled the plug on coverage. Since The Canadian Press relies on AP for news from abroad, that means Canadian newspapers are part of the boycott, which also includes Reuters and Agence France-Press.
``The AP would be our normal provider of such coverage and we have not looked to alternate sources," Canadian Press sports editor Neil Davidson told The Star. ``The issues that concern The Associated Press also trouble us, so we respect and support their stand."
If this story sounds familiar, the news agencies boycotted the 2008-09 Australian cricket series involving South Africa and New Zealand.
In short, Cricket Australia has demanded the right to see the news agencies' list of clients in case it wants to deny photos and news to any newspaper it deems unworthy. It also wants limits on the use of text and photos on newspaper web sites.
The agencies, rightfully so, declined to comply. If news providers start knuckling under to these kinds of demands, they'll find themselves on the slippery slope to oblivion.
So, if you want results, you pretty much have to go online or -- and this is pertinent -- go to the Cricket Australia website.
While this may seem irrelevant to all but cricket fans in North America, the fact is that there's an uneasy truce in this part of the world over restrictions on the coverage of hockey, baseball, football and basketball. But a battle over who gets to show what isn't far off.
CP, and member newspapers such as The Star, haven't signed agreements with the NHL, NBA or Major League Baseball because they can't agree to limitations on coverage -- specifically on what's allowed to be posted on web sites.
``The Canadian Press has never signed a sports credential that would prevent us from carrying out what we feel is our traditional and legitimate right to cover a sports team," says CP editor-in-chief Scott White. ``We think it's wrong for a league to say we can do whatever we want in print, but for digital reporting and newsgathering, there are certain restrictions."
The leagues haven't banned anybody from covering games and, frankly, there's not much chance they ever will because they're not dumb enough to cut off all the free publicity the mainstream media provide. But they aren't likely to bend far on what they see as an invasion of their turf.
The leagues make big bucks off their web sites -- MLB brings in $400 million U.S. every year from its web operations -- and don't want anyone treading on their territory. That's bunk, says White.
``I would strongly suggest any coverage by traditional media only drives traffic to the `official' sites because fans are sophisticated enough to know there are different types of information on a team site vs. a news site," he says. ``Fans want both."
But they also would love some day to be the sole source of sports highlights, video, photos and news. Kudos to those trying to fight that.
THE NUMBERS GAME: Last week's Buffalo Bills game in Toronto fared well for Rogers Sportsnet, with an average audience of 524,000 tuning in to what was a pretty dull exhibition of football. ... Monday's Thrashers-Leafs game pulled in 711,000 to Sportsnet, outpointing Monday Night Football on TSN by 140,000 viewers.v