Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Premier League reporting restrictions are Neanderthal approach to social media

Like many men up and down the country, I start every Monday morning by reading the reports of the weekend’s football matches - It helps that I work in a consumer PR agency with national newspapers on tap. This week was no different and I chose the Mirror for its round up of the first weekend of the Football League season. But only now do I realise how clever The Mirror reporting was.

Unbeknown to me, journalists and photographers from national titles, news and picture agencies were locked out from most football grounds across England this weekend after a row over coverage rights. The Premier League and Football League are looking to impose ridiculous restrictions on the way newspapers report matches and to control photos taken at matches. Not only are they trying to stop the rising (and fascinating) trend for journalists to interact with fans via Twitter during the match, they also want a limit of 15 photos posted on websites during live play. No wonder the media said no.

As a result on the first weekend of the season, when Football League clubs have the chance to promote themselves (and the league itself) before the big guns kick off next week, only West Ham, Brighton and Accrington let in newspaper journalists. It is the latest act of stupidity by The Premier League and Football League authorities, or as The Times put so well: “an own-goal…by football’s bosses who once again showed their ineptitude”. If the authorities don’t budge by Friday the same restrictions could be in place for first weekend of the Premier League season but I won’t hold my breath. Many media titles have cleverly hit back where it hurts by refusing to name sponsors – which should be enough to make the Premier League and Football League wake up and smell the bovril.

The media has effectively made the Premier League (and to a lesser extent the Football League) what it is today, relentlessly promoting it as the biggest and best league in the world - whether you believe it or not. For the authorities to now turn round and start imposing restrictions is a Neanderthal response to modern social media and will ultimately cut off the hand that feeds.

Depending on your choice of Monday paper, you might not have been aware of this situation. Here’s a quick run-down of how the papers reported it (the Community Shield was exempt from restrictions):

- Daily Mail – covered two games (at Brighton and West Ham) with a note: “Today’s coverage of the Championship has been restricted because of a dispute with the Football League”. No mention of sponsors

- Daily Mirror – covered every match but on closer inspection all photos seem to have been taken from library images or video stills. No mention of sponsors

- The Times – all games covered but with only three photos across 35 games. No mention of sponsors

- The Guardian – only covered two games (at Brighton and West Ham) with an explanation of reporting restrictions. No mention of sponsors


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