THE NATIONAL Football League is famously protective of its teams’ intellectual property, especially their lucrative television broadcasting rights. This is, after all, the league that threatened churches to keep them from showing the Super Bowl to parishioners on big-screen TVs.
Now the league is expanding its control beyond the gridiron. It’s limiting what news organizations can do on their websites with recordings made at team facilities between games. In exchange for credentials to cover the sport, newspapers, local TV stations and other media have to agree not to post more than 45 seconds of audio or video a day (or 90 seconds in markets with two pro teams). The snippets they offer online have to be removed within 24 hours, and they can’t combine the recordings with advertisements.
Adding insult to injury, the league requires any Web page with recorded audio or video from team facilities to include links to NFL.com and the team’s website, where presumably the complete recordings can be found. Or not found, as is likely to be the case when a coach goes ballistic or a player berates the owners.
The NFL’s goal is to make midweek footage more valuable by making it scarce. If you want to hear Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs holding forth at length on his preparations for the game, you’ll need to go to redskins.com -- where you’ll watch not just the footage chosen by the team but also the ads it sold. In the brave new world online, the league doesn’t want its sites to compete with the news media. It wants to hoard.
The NFL is in a position to dictate terms to news media because the demand for its core product -- its teams’ games -- is strong. One reason for that strength, though, is the volume of free publicity supplied by the media. That coverage helps sustain fans’ interest even when their team can’t find its way into the end zone. Restricting the availability of footage online at a time when consumers are shifting more and more of their attention to the Web could very well sap demand. Rather than trying to inflate the value of the clips on their sites, league owners should think first about what product they really need to sell.