New SEC restrictions bad deal for fans

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. The poet Virgil wrote that in his epic “The Aeneid” and translated literally it means do not trust Greeks bearing gifts. If Virgil (70BC-19BC) were alive today, he would be writing about how the Southeastern Conference had duped its fan base with that new $3 billion television deal only to turn around and gouge them a couple of weeks later. This new announcement that the SEC will no longer permit video highlights of its football games to be shown anywhere but on its new pay to view website is pure greed. If you aren’t incensed, then you should be.

Here is the deal. Television stations and websites that have been able to run highlight video from football games involving the Southeastern Conference are now banned from the practice. The only place anyone can see highlight video other than CBS or ESPN, which are in bed with the SEC thanks to the new television contract, will be on the new SEC website which is run by a company called XOS. It’s called the SEC Digital Network and it will cost you to go there to see video highlights of your favorite team.

Not only will highlights be restricted, the SEC and XOS are working out a deal to limit post-game interviews, too.

This is nothing more than gouging the fan base. No matter how hard the SEC tries to paint its rosy picture about how the video of games will be forever preserved and how the schools are going to benefit, what the league and its 12 member institutions are telling you is that might makes right — that, yes, we are the wealthiest conference in the nation and even if we do owe our success to fans like you, we don’t give a damn about you if you can’t give us even more of your money.

This is an assault on your wallet by folks who just had a Brinks truck back up to their headquarters and unload more money than the national budget of no telling how many Third World countries. And it’s not just the league doing it. It’s all 12 of its member institutions — all of whom are complicit in this deal — telling the fans to bend over one more time and hold your ankles because we’re going to stick it right up the wazzoo.

Friday, the SEC’s associate commissioner for media relations Charles Bloom said, “This is not a restriction of overall coverage … It’s a restriction of video.”

There is already “restriction of video” in place. For example, the University of Florida, which offers Gator Vision to those who will pay for it, limits highlight video to two minutes or less. Of course, under the new policy of the league, Florida’s website will be exempt but not sites like Gator Country or the Gainesville Sun, which have offered video highlights to its customers free.

And what’s next? A restriction on photographers and what photos they can take? Restrictions on what reporters can write?

You can expect the SEC, its 12 athletic directors and all its sports information directors to say that would never happen, but it’s already happening folks. You want to know why you don’t see in-depth stories about players and coaches, the ones you are constantly asking for? It’s because the working press that covers the teams on a day-to-day basis is constantly being squeezed. Each year there is less access and less access means fewer stories.

Of course, those rules change when we’re dealing with ESPN or Sports Illustrated or “national” media. When they need a feature piece they call and get whatever access they need. It’s a rubber stamp. Urban Meyer signed a six-year contract renewal that will pay him $4 million a year. Who got the story first? ESPN.

This is a troubling trend and it’s conference-wide and it’s all greed based. You would think that a league that can command $3 billion — and that figure might be small when advertising revenues, etc. kick in — would want to say thanks to the fans that made it all possible. You would think that the league would take a moment to consider the fact that the media has been its de facto partner all these years in building a fan base that is second to none.

The SEC is NOTHING without its fans. Do you want to know why ESPN and CBS are wiling to pony up all those bucks to broadcast SEC football? It’s because there is no fan base in the country more passionate than those in the Southeastern Conference. The SEC can command big bucks because there is no other fan base exists that has this kind of cradle to grave loyalty.

This goes beyond the boosters that are willing to pony up $3,000 or more yearly in fees just for the right to buy season tickets. Yes, the athletic directors can point out to sold out stadiums and waiting lists for season tickets as proof positive that fans will pay to see SEC football games, but the SEC is and always has been about more than just the fat cats who can afford a bit of extravagance.

What makes the SEC great are those fans in small towns all across the nine states that make up the core of the SEC nation. These are the folks that drive a couple hundred miles on a cold February morning just to sit in a stadium for a few minutes and take pictures. The price of tickets is beyond their reach and seeing a game live is a dream that will never come true but they’ve been loyal to their team all these years. They wear the T-shirts and sweatshirts and they proudly say “we” when talking about their school of choice and even if it’s a replay of a game they’ve seen a dozen times before and it’s on television at 2 a.m., they’re up watching it even if they already know the outcome.

This is the core of the SEC. That is the rabid fan base that is the envy of all of college sports. Nobody loves their teams like SEC fans. Nobody supports their teams like SEC teams.

So what is their reward?

Instead of saying thanks for making it all possible to the people who made it all possible, the SEC is taking this moment to gouge them further. The SEC is saying we love you so much that we’ll stop your local television station from showing highlight video but you can pay to come to our website to see it.

And it goes a step further than that.

RECRUITS visit websites to watch video. RECRUITS make decisions on where they might take their official visits oftentimes because of what they see on highlight video. We know this because kids tell us all the time that they love watching the highlight video on Gator Country. Do you think that the majority of kids who are being recruited can afford to shell out cash to the SEC just to view highlight video that until now could be seen for FREE?

I wonder what Urban Meyer is going to think when some kid tells him he’s going to Miami because he loves their style, which he can see for himself for FREE on the local Miami stations or on numerous websites devoted to the Hurricanes?

Oh, I know, it’s only video and I’m over-reacting, right? Why should I be so concerned about video since I’m still in the press box and I can write about the games?

I’m concerned because every year it’s something new. Ultimately, everything that restricts access by the media trickles down to affect you, the fans. Today it’s the video. Tomorrow it will be further limits on what we can write and who we can write about or who your local television and radio stations can interview.

Can you see a day when the only thing you’ll be able to read about the Gators will be written by someone in the employ of the University of Florida or the Southeastern Conference?

If you can’t, then you need to. This isn’t a preposterous idea. It’s already happening.

Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.