NFL requires photographers to ‘become walking billboards’

At the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998, NBC-TV required its broadcasters to wear blazers inscribed with the Nike logo. Now, a new NFL vest rule (with corporate sponsor logos) has some American media finally seeing red. Working press members are to be used as advertising vehicles and become “become walking billboards.” Meanwhile, the U.S. media and sports monopolies fight over corporate “rights” to images from sporting events. Two articles.

By DONALD R. WINSLOW, © 2007 News Photographer magazine

(July 18, 2007) – THE National Football League has passed a new rule for the upcoming season that requires photographers at NFL games to wear red vests with Canon and Reebok logos on them, and the news is not being very well received by some editors and photography directors as word spreads through the journalism community.

David Shribman, executive editor of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in the NFL Steelers’ hometown, responded to the news today by saying: “We’re not going to become walking billboards. I hope that NPPA will challenge this and they have our support.”

“In Seattle and at Super Bowl XL in Detroit, we wore bibs that blended into the background,” NPPA president Tony Overman said today. “Making the vests red seems to go against previous practice, now making the vests highly visible (and therefore distracting) to everyone from players, officials, and ticket holders to television viewers.

“The NFL is an organization that strictly controls the presence of any non-sponsor logos (remember quarterback Jim McMahon and his [banned] Adidas headband?). Therefore the inclusion of sponsors’ logos on the photographers’ vests can only be seen as a deliberate decision to give the companies added exposure. But the vast expanse of the NFL stadiums, and the army of workers staffing the games, provide an endless supply of opportunities to promote the NFL’s sponsors without having to resort to forcing working journalists to unwillingly – and unethically – serve as advertising tools,” Overman said.

“I think it’s extremely unfortunate that the NFL, after limiting the number of local video photojournalists on the sidelines (last season), is now attempting to turn them into roving billboards,” attorney and former photojournalist Mickey H. Osterreicher said today in Buffalo, NY, where for many years he covered the NFL’s Buffalo Bills before becoming a lawyer who specializes in First Amendment and press freedom issues. “I would strongly suggest that any news organization whose photographers are required to wear such vests protest the requirement in the strongest of terms.” Osterreicher is also NPPA’s general legal counsel.

“It totally goes against our Code of Ethics to force photographers to advertise as if they were some sort of NASCAR vehicle,” John Long, the chair of NPPA’s Ethics & Standards Committee said today from Manchester, CT. “We are independent gatherers of news, storytellers with no agendas. Our integrity comes from objectivity. Do reporters put up with this kind of disrespect from the NFL?”

“This, of course, is not the first time photographers have been forced to wear vests at games that have advertising on them,” Pete Cross said today. He’s the assistant managing editor for photography for The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, FL. “For instance, just this year at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (note it’s not called just Fiesta Bowl anymore), photographers covering the game wore vests with the Tostitos logo on it. Many a shooter wore the vests inside-out in protest. Still, the thought of having to wear anything promoting products is not something journalists would choose to do. We consider it distasteful and unethical.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if some newspapers get together and seriously discuss a boycott,” Cross said. “The AP boycotted the Ladies Professional Golf Association’s first round of the 2006 Hawaiian tournament in protest over photo rights. The LPGA backed off. We certainly will raise our concerns over the vests. Will we end up wearing them in the end? Maybe. Maybe inside-out.”

Most people first learned about the new rule and red vests in a story in Monday’s Wall Street Journal by Adam Thompson headlined “Sports Leagues Impose More Rules On Coverage.” The reporter quotes the president of the Pro Football Writers Association, Alex Marvez, who is also a sports writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Marvez told Thompson that the idea of using working press members as advertising vehicles was “really alarming.” Canon Inc. is an official NFL sponsor, and Reebok is owned by Adidas AG, and is an NFL league licensee that makes clothing and merchandise with NFL logos on them.

For photojournalists who are also NPPA members, there’s also NPPA’s Code of Ethics to consider. Membership in the organization requires abiding by NPPA’s ethical standards, and part of the Code says: “Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage. … Avoid political, civic, and business involvements or other employment that compromise or give the appearance of compromising one’s own journalistic independence.”

The presence of corporate logos on game vests could be construed by some editors to be a violation of journalistic independence. As an example, many newspapers do not allow their employees to have political bumper stickers on their cars supporting candidates or political parties, or to donate to charities, or to participate in events that could be misunderstood or bring into question the organization’s neutral or independent stance. In early July, the Richmond Times-Dispatch suspended a statehouse reporter and copy editor for 30 days without pay when they learned the two had made political donations, a breach of the paper’s code of ethics.

“I consider this to be a blatant attempt to make our professional sports photographers into another arm of the NFL media monster,” Larry Roberts said today. He’s the assistant managing editor for photography for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Besides trying to control what we photograph, where we publish, and to whom we can sell images, they are now trying to turn us into a part of the spectacle. Vests are de rigueur in places such as the Olympics and are often safety related. If this is the case, then I have no problem with the red vests and will simply have our shooters turn them inside out. However, I am fully against my staffers being used as billboards for companies which we may or may not support. The Post-Gazette, as a paper, uses Nikon equipment. I am sure Canon will love seeing their name behind a Nikon. … Or, will we now be prohibited from covering NFL events if we do not use Canon cameras? And by the way, I am sure that the photographs will be so much better with flashes of red drawing a reader’s eyes away from the action.”

“Everyone who serves as a pitchman is compensated and does so by choice,” NPPA’s past president Alicia Wagner Calzada said today. “For photojournalists, covering NFL games is not a personal choice. It is one part of their job that must fit in appropriately with the rest of their job.”


* * *

Sports Leagues impose more rules on coverage

By ADAM THOMPSON, Wall Street Journal

(July 16, 2007) – THE overlords of big-time sports and reporters have battled for nearly as long as they’ve needed each other. In 1938, baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates successfully sued a radio station that placed staffers outside Forbes Field to peek in and broadcast an unauthorized play-by-play of a game.

For all the tension, the two sides had a symbiotic relationship. Publicity sold tickets and access sold papers and boosted ratings.

But with teams, leagues and other sports organizations stepping ever more boldly into the media business themselves, the balance has changed. Sports entities, flush with television cash, are exerting more control over access, and reporters say their ability to provide fans with critical, unfettered analysis has been hampered along the way. The still-murky definition of what constitutes Internet journalism complicates the debate further.

The National Football League, the superpower of all sports organizations, recently imposed a new rule limiting media outlets to 45 seconds of online audio or video footage with league or team personnel per day on NFL property. Further, the league requires media Web sites to remove such footage after 24 hours and always include links to the Web sites of pertinent teams and Those sites can show as much footage as they please, but no fan would consider them a destination for negative news like a player’s arrest or drug suspension. This could force many papers to change their practices: the Miami Herald, for instance, last year streamed five or six two-to-three minute interviews after Miami Dolphins games, posted an additional one or two of that length per day during the week and streamed all of ex-coach Nick Saban’s Monday press conferences, according to executive sports editor Jorge Rojas.

NFL officials say they welcome independent coverage of their 32 teams. But having made $170 million in online revenue in the fiscal year ended March 31 – up over 17% from the previous fiscal year – and with a young cable network to nurture, the league has plenty of incentive to limit the newspapers, TV and radio stations that cover it. And it can set its own rules: anyone not abiding by its media policies can have their credentials revoked without legal repercussions.

The owners can do that for a simple reason: They’re owners. “It’s our facility,” says Karl Swanson, spokesman for the Washington Redskins, a team viewed by the press as particularly hard-line on this issue. Along with the NFL’s new rules, the team will maintain its policy of not allowing print reporters to record Web video footage. The Redskins also battled with the Washington Post in 2005 after the paper twice posted about 400 photos – about five shots per play – in near real-time during games.

“If you’d cut ‘em up like a kid and flipped through them like a book, you’d have a video,” says Mr. Swanson, noting that the rule is meant to protect the league’s network television partners from competition. The NFL reminded the Post that it had gone well beyond the 10 to 12 in-game photos it was permitted to upload. The paper complied after that discussion.

“In 25 years of working with sports it’s the first time anybody ever complained about too much coverage,” says Washington Post assistant managing editor for sports Emilio Garcia-Ruiz.

The NFL hastens to point out that it has loosened some of its rules. Assistant coaches can no longer be barred from giving interviews, and players must talk to the press at least once a week. Reporters may talk endlessly about football online, as long as no NFL personnel are involved beyond the daily dose of 45 seconds. It says television stations have long complied with limits keeping them to a total of six minutes of news footage on game days and two minutes other days. The NFL also hasn’t put any limits on Webcasts of interviews done off league or team property (though in reality such interviews are often hard to come by).

But some of the NFL’s other actions have horrified Alex Marvez, president of the Pro Football Writers Association and a South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter. He winces at the new rule requiring photographers to wear red vests with small Canon and Reebok logos. Mr. Marvez calls the idea of using working press members as advertising vehicles “really alarming.” Neither company is paying a specific fee for the vests, but Canon Inc. is an official sponsor of the league (it pays a rights fee to be associated with the NFL) and Reebok International Ltd., owned by Adidas AG, is a league licensee (it makes merchandise with NFL logos, including jerseys, pants and photo vests).

Nascar would own all images captured at the event

Still, media members know they must pick their battles. Naomi Halperin, photo editor of the Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., and president of the Associated Press Photo Managers, says vest logos are the least of her problems. She was taken aback when, before June’s Pocono 500 auto race, she was asked for the first time to sign a credential application agreeing that Nascar would own all images captured at the event. She pushed back and received press passes without hassle.

“We want to maintain control of our images. We certainly don’t want to see our images in ads,” Ms. Halperin says. A Nascar spokesman says the organization has had the policy for “years and years,” and has never interfered with a newspaper’s editorial decisions. The NFL and Major League Baseball both consider any images recorded on their leagues’ sites as property of the media organization that produces them.

That incident echoes a battle between the Ladies Professional Golf Association and photographers resisting the organization’s assertion that it had broad rights to re-use photos shot at a 2006 tournament in Hawaii without permission of the organizations that took the pictures. After the AP and local papers boycotted the first day of the event, the LPGA relented.

Other recent skirmishes abound. This month, Major League Baseball forced ESPN to remove its in-stadium all-star game studio set, claiming the network ignored an embargo announcing the game’s rosters that was meant to drive viewers to a TBS show. The National Collegiate Athletic Association drew attention last month after ejecting a reporter from the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., from a postseason baseball game for giving away too many game details in his blog. (The NCAA later relented and gave the Courier-Journal credentials for the College World Series.)

As for the NFL’s new Web rules, league executives say they are open to adjustments, but only after they see the rules in practice. They say they want coverage, but within their parameters.

“To the extent that we’ve got widespread compliance problems, that’s an indication this isn’t working. To the extent that coverage gets less, that’s an indication this isn’t working,” says Frank Hawkins, the NFL’s senior vice president of business affairs. But the league will dispatch a group of spot-checkers to patrol the Web, and those on both sides of the debate can envision a media member losing his or her credential this year over this dispute.

Philadelphia Inquirer sports editor Jim Jenks just finished a term as president of the AP Sports Editors but has continued representing the group in talks with the NFL. He hopes to avoid any lost credentials and keep open a dialogue that allows for more exceptions. For instance, he wonders why a coach’s weekly formal press conference couldn’t be streamed by all, and argues that such events wouldn’t take place without the reporters who ask the questions.

But Mr. Jenks and his colleagues have little leverage. While the NFL is flush with money, newspapers are having a tough time keeping readers these days. “So many of us are just trying to hold on to what we have,” Mr. Marvez says. League spokesman Greg Aiello notes, “There are so many other access points, so many other places fans can go to get NFL information these days.”

Adam Thompson at


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