Golf.com reports the PGA Tour has warned media members not to publish their own “play-by-play” of Tour events via Twitter or other social media. Previously the Tour didn’t object if media members did so away from the actual golf course. But an email from PGA Tour official Ty Votaw said even off-site play-by-play would now be met with retribution:
As you know, our media regulations prohibit the use of real-time, play-by-play transmission in digital outlets. In order to enforce these regulations, beginning this year, we will revoke the on-site credentials of all journalists affiliated with outlets that post play-by-play coverage, whether those posts are originating from tournament site or otherwise.
In a strict property rights sense, there’s nothing wrong with the PGA Tour restricting access to its events–in this case through media credentials–for whatever reason it deems proper. Of course, this works both ways. A media outlet that loses its credentials can respond by suspending its coverage of the PGA Tour. In other words, good luck trying to enforce a credential ban against ESPN.
The utilitarian question here is, What purpose is served by insisting on “proprietary” rights to live coverage of your event? Matt Yoder of Awful Announcing offers this answer:
How do leagues and organizations like the PGA Tour not see that increased coverage and attention for their sport is a good thing in the social media age? Sports media and covering sports in 2013 is all about sharing. It’s all about more transparency and more information at our fingertips than ever before. Is preserving a few extra hits to the PGA Tour website worth this kind of negative attention and dictatorial nonsense? Should we go back to using wooden drivers and featheries while we’re at it?
To answer Yoder’s question–why don’t leagues see the light of the information age–you have to understand the central role intellectual property plays in all sports leagues. As I wrote last month:
[Sports leagues] are fictional constructs of intellectual property. They are trademarks and copyrights backed by the state. Take these items away and the leagues are nothing but social arrangements. They have no power. And they certainly have no monopoly power.
Even when you’re not directly employing copyright law, as is the case here with the PGA Tour, sports leagues maintain an IP mentality in almost aspects of their business relationships. The default assumption is that information is proprietary and exclusive to the league as its “author.”
Consider the familiar warning that accompanies all NFL games:
This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL’s consent is prohibited.
Legally this is nonsense. People provide “descriptions” and “accounts” of games every day without infringing the NFL’s government-created copyrights. You can no more ban someone from describing a football game than reviewing a book. But by persistently disseminating such bogus warnings, the sports leagues are trying to maintain the crumbling facade of proprietary information.
It’s a wonderful fake paradox: Leagues depend on IP for their survival, yet the wide dissemination of sports information–most notably the accounts and descriptions of games–would render IP completely worthless but-for the government’s intervention via copyright and trademark laws. Furthermore, the elimination of IP will help make certain sports, like professional golf, more popular at the expense of the PGA Tour’s bureaucracy, which continues to exist as a legacy of the IP system.