SD says no to exclusive prep sports rights

Jun 5, 2013

By T.C. Cameron

Communications Director | Maryland-Delaware-DC Newspaper Association

PIERRE, SD—With little national attention, South Dakota has passed a law of strong interest to newspapers. South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed a bill March 8 prohibiting public schools in that state from signing exclusive contracts for media coverage of interscholastic sporting events.

Most community newspapers count on prep sports coverage as one of their primary traffic drivers for content and advertising purposes. Even metro papers such as the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post include prep sports as an important part of their overall editorial presentation.

“Obviously we feel like prep sports are a public entity, so we would be opposed to any restriction,” said Baltimore Sun Sports Editor Ron Fritz. “We offer coverage because there’s great interest in high school sports and it’s one of our core coverage areas, along with the Orioles, Ravens, University of Maryland and other colleges.”

Professional and major college teams have limited access in recent years by closing practices and withholding information, instead choosing to release news on proprietary websites or via Twitter feeds or Facebook pages. In South Dakota, lobbyists for the state’s largest school districts argued the schools own proprietary broadcast rights to such events on the Internet and other mediums such as TV and radio. 

The South Dakota Newspaper Association and the South Dakota Broadcasters Association supported the measure, arguing that taxpayer-supported public schools should not be able to profit from prep sports while restricting media access to events the public expects to see covered in local newspapers.

The measure passed overwhelmingly and takes effect July 1.

This past fall, the Delaware County Daily Times in Primos, PA, was not allowed to live-stream the biggest football game of the season. Entering the eighth week of the prep season, the contest between undefeated Springfield and one-loss Ridley was advertised on the paper’s website, but school officials, citing the fear of a smaller gate at games the paper offered live streams for, abruptly canceled the paper’s live-stream access.

“Ridley was packed that night, because it was the biggest game of the season, so you can’t tell me our stream replaced the experience of going to the game,” said Daily Times Editor Phil Heron. “They held this up and not for the reason they claimed.”

Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, said the MPSSAA sells exclusive TV rights fees for state finals for football, as well as rights fees for exclusive Internet-streaming. 

“The Sinclair Broadcasting Co. broadcasts our football finals, and we have an agreement for video-streaming with Play On Sports for our other finals,” Sparks said. “However, any newspaper is allowed to cover our finals in print with equal access, and no radio station owns any exclusive rights, either. It’s a very fluid agreement.”

Sparks said there have been instances when as many as three radio stations from the same town have paid the MPSSAA’s rights fee to broadcast the same game. Sparks said Maryland is one of two states that do not require public or member schools to pay annual membership dues.

“The broadcast entity shouldn’t be able to make money on the backs of the taxpayers by selling advertising time without any of that profit going back to the schools to enrich the opportunities for the students,” Sparks said. “At the same time, our organization is self-supporting. We rely on ticket sales, concessions and merchandise sales along with rights’ fees to sustain our organization.”

Sparks said most schools are looking for more coverage instead of trying to deny one newsgathering organization over another. In October of last year, MPSSAA assistant director Andy Warner told ExPress News the MPSSAA does not have any specific policy regarding live streaming of regular season games because the 197 member schools retain control of their respective regular season events.

“I don’t know what the future holds,” said the Sun’s Fritz, “but I hope that kind of thing doesn’t happen here.”