You can't exactly call the people who run Major League Baseball geniuses (believe me, I used to cover the baseball business). Just look at the steroids fiasco for recent proof. But in case you need more, it's at hand: Following in the idiotic tradition of the NFL and other sports leagues in attempting to control coverage, Bud Selig & Co. have imposed draconian rules on how the media can cover baseball games this season. If you're the "bearer" an MLB press pass, here are some of the new, unbearable rules:
• "While a Game is in progress, Bearer shall not transmit or aid in transmitting any Game Information on a play-by-play or pitch-by-pitch basis, more frequently than once every half-inning of play (except to report on the occasional and significant historic event)." (Sorry, bloggers, tough luck.)
• "While a Game is in progress, Bearer shall not transmit, display, or aid in transmitting or displaying, any video, audio, pictures, photographs or other non-text based accounts or descriptions of Games ... that Bearer obtains at that Game in any media." (I guess that rules out any reporting by iPhone!)
• "Any video captured within the ballpark, excluding press conferences, must be limited to 120 seconds and cannot be carried live; ... no live or taped audio or video is permitted to be captured from 45 minutes prior to a scheduled game time until that game has concluded; ... a manager’s pre-game interview or other content may not be transmitted live and audio or video transmissions of such content may be no longer than 120 seconds; ... a manager’s post-game press conference may be captured via video or audio and transmitted (and archived for up to 72 hours) on Bearer’s website but may not be carried live; and ... interviews with players, Club personnel and baseball officials may be transmitted by Bearer on its website for a maximum of 72 hours, may not be longer than 120 seconds in duration and may not include any Game highlights." (All you local TV stations and Web sites who want to do video? Forget about it.)
• Oh, and these credentialed media sites aren't allowed to display more than seven photos of each game, or display those seven pix for more than 72 hours after a game (unless linked to a story)—and "such still pictures or photographs of any Game cannot be used as part of a photo gallery, the definition of which shall be determined by the Baseball Office of the Commissioner in its sole discretion."
This is unbelievable—but maybe not, given that it comes from the people who gave us the designated hitter, juiced ball and juiced players. I guess I understand why lawyers for sports leagues want to control their product and trademarks—and protect the lucrative league-owned Web sites that increasingly are muscling in on traditional media coverage.
But at some point, MLB's leaders and other sports executives are taking their eye off the ball. Sports in this country exists primarily because the media covers it. If coverage suffers, so do ratings and attendance (just ask the NHL, the WNBA and Major League Soccer). Baseball should be welcoming the press with open arms—that's how the sport is marketed to the paying public.
Online News Squared reports that media companies apparently are pushing back on these ridiculous restrictions; as I've said before, the ultimate solution is for the media to simply announce that it won't cover the games until the restrictions are lifted. Boycott the games, editors. Simple as that. The resulting public outcry, and impact on attendance, should knock some sense into the Lords of Baseball.
Major League Baseball is uniquely protected by an exemption from federal antitrust laws. Maybe it's time that MLB understands that the press has its own unique protections in the First Amendment.