Brighton’s spanking new press box must have been at bursting point on Saturday as national newspaper journalists found at least one club prepared to welcome them through the front door.
Hopefully the Amex Stadium received plenty of mentions too, on a weekend when the sponsors of the you-know-what Football League were effectively air-brushed out of existence by newspapers and agencies.
The same fate awaits the Premier League’s long-standing commercial backers this week if the licensing row between DataCo and the Newspapers Publishers’ Association is not resolved for the start of the season.
Thanks to the extraordinary behind-the-scenes events of last week, dozens of football reporters found themselves in the bizarre position of being banned from the press box at the weekend – a direct order from DataCo, backed up by the Football League against the advice and wishes of nearly every club press office in the country.
Only Brighton on Saturday and West Ham on Sunday openly chose to disregard the bullying tactics imposed on them, although many other clubs unofficially made sure that journalists who bought tickets would be seated together and in relevant areas of the ground.
At Burnley , they even offered a seat in the press box to those who had paid.
Meanwhile, an accreditated local sports agency with a long-standing and close relationship with a club were warned that they would be banned for the rest of the season if they dared to file copy to any of the national newspapers involved in the dispute, as DataCo sought to impose what one industry source has described as its “pernicious end-user terms”.
Yesterday’s FA Community Shield game at Wembley between Manchester United and Manchester City, sponsorsed by McDonald’s, meanwhile, was properly and fully covered by the papers and agencies, since media attendance at the Football Association event is governed by different contractual rules from the highly restrictive controls which have led to the dispute.
Last week the English football leagues failed to continue negotiations with major news organisations which want an end to unprecedented controls on how news is published and distributed.
The Wembley match provided sports journalists and photographers with a big editorial opportunity to compete to give football fans comprehensive and independent accounts through quality photography, expert analysis, live blog reports including scores, web updates and interactivity with the fans and journalists using Twitter and other social networking – much of which would be banned under proposals which the football bodies want to impose.
DataCo’s intransigence in the past week has alienated many clubs who wish to retain the right to admit and reject who they want to the press box without being dictated to by administrators with little apparent understanding of the relationship with journalists.
However, the Football and Premier League are happy to make money from DataCo and continue to hand over more decision-making powers, despite pleas from bodies like the SJA, the Football Writers’ Association and the News Media Coalition, which is representing the Newspaper Publishers’ Association, among others.
A year’s worth of negotiations over new terms for the football media licences broke down last week when DataCo delivered a 16-page legal document on Wednesday night and a sign-it-or-else ultimatum. The NPA decided to play hardball over several issues, even though they concede that the rise of social media and internet blogging needs to addressed.
The depth of feeling among the sports desks is reflected by the fact it is the first time newspapers and wire agencies have joined in collective bargaining, rather than each outlet striking an individual deal with the governing bodies. The leagues feel a threat from what they describe as wire-agency demands to syndicate data, photography and text to any end-user publication or internet site they choose.
The NMC has rejected football’s demand for end-user agreements. “The reason why the leagues like end-user licences so much is that they use them to tell agencies who they can sell their own, copyrighted material to,” the NMC said.
“This is inherently objectionable for reasons to do with editorial freedom. At the same time they are using it to direct small agencies not to supply any material to NPA members. It completely proves why the nationals were always right to stand alongside their fellow NMC members in objecting to them.”
Express Newspapers, who are not members of the NPA, have agreed the new rules. Suggestions that they would support their national rivals proved unfounded, however, and they staffed matches at the weekend.
On Friday the call went out to many reporters standing them down from their weekend games – a financial blow to freelances in particular. Some estimate that top freelancers, who would usually look to cover two matches in a weekend for possibly two or three outlets, could be out of pocket by nearly £1,000.
The newspapers came up with another strategy.
The Sun, Daily Mail, Telegraph and Independent plus some Sunday papers asked journalists to turn up to their match to collect their accreditation. When it was refused, they were instructed to buy a ticket and to send a match report without stepping into any press-only area of the ground.
Henry Winter, the Telegraph‘s football correspondent, was at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground for instance. Sunday Mirror columnist Michael Calvin Tweeted from the Tesco Stand at Coventry.
The Observer took a different stance. They carried a Brighton match report, obviously, and then chose not to report on any other games. None of Sunday’s papers used logo or name of the League sponsors either in copy or in results.
The Premier League clubs involved in friendlies over the weekend allowed journalists entrance as normal, with the notable exception of West Brom, who turned away The Sun for the pre-season warm-up against Parma on Sunday.
UPCOMING SJA DATES
- Thu Aug 18: Lunch with Sir Clive Woodward, performance director of the BOA, on plans for the 2012 Olympics with just one year until the London Games. For booking details click here.
- Mon Sep 12: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill GC. Click here for more details and to book yourself in for the day.
- Wed Dec 7: SJA 2011 British Sports Awards – Booking now open. For more details, click here.
All details subject to alteration. Keep checking sportsjournalists.co.uk for updates