Wick Communications

On Wisconsin

In Media law on 20 Aug 2010 at 8:26 am

Can you stream video – or for that matter even live blog – from high school sporting events? You can now, but you might want to keep an eye on a case in Wisconsin.

Gannett and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association are appealing a federal court decision that ruled some high school athletic events are private affairs … even though they occur on public land and stem from public schools.

Curious legislative reasoning, if you ask me (and they certainly didn’t.)

Here’s what happened: The Post-Crescent newspaper provided live streaming video coverage of four high school playoff games in 2008. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association cried foul, saying that interfered with its sale of rights for such coverage to a third-party contractor. The court agreed with the association. Judge William Conley: “Ultimately, this is a case about commerce, not the right to a free press.”

There is no question commerce is involved. But this is different from, say, a Major League baseball team coming down on the local paper for some similar transgression. These are public schools operating with public money on public fields.

Apparently, in the Wisconsin case, it was OK for the newspaper to stream regular-season games because the association didn’t or couldn’t sell those rights…

Similar arguments have been made with regard to still photography at sporting events. As schools seek to suck money from every nook and cranny they can find, don’t be surprised if you see more and more of this.


  1. I must disagree with Clay on the Wisconsin issue. The disagreement comes from the knowledge I have obtained in working with the Peninsula Athletic League and Central Coast Section.

    First, here is background on the CCS and PAL. The CCS is one of 10 high school sections in California, all under the jurisdiction of the California Interscholastic Federation. The CCS is made up of nearly 15 leagues, with about 130 high schools, ranging some private schools in San Francisco, going 150 miles south to King City. The PAL is one of the leagues, of which Half Moon Bay, the school I cover for the Half Moon Bay Review, is a member.

    To put on playoffs, there are some locations where the host site will charge a rental fee. At San Jose City College, where some of the football playoffs will take place this year, the cost is going so high that there is a fear that CCS might have to find some other place to host some of the games. According to CCS officials, Spartan Stadium, located near the campus of San Jose State University, just costs way too much. Though it’s easy to say that it can find a site, that isn’t entirely the case. San Jose CC has the largest seating capacity for football. That is the site used for the Open Division semifinals and finals. More times than not, those teams come from the West Catholic Athletic League. All those schools, as well as Palma, a private school located in Salinas, located south of San Jose, travel well. The WCAL teams generate the greatest discussion on message boards. They get more discussion than teams in the other leagues combined. Attendance for those games draw about 10,000 people. There is no high school site in the CCS that compares to San Jose CC in terms of attendance.

    The fear is that if you have free on-line streaming, it will cost those putting on the playoffs money because some will not attend as some will chose to watch a game in the comfort of their homes instead out in the elements.

    The CCS requires a licensing fee for broadcasting.

    The CCS is fighting tooth and nail not to have to raise fees for schools, as well as not to have to raise ticket prices. But with the costs going up, the CCS needs, as well other organizations find ways to stay above budget.

    While I agree in theory with Clay’s argument, I side more with the high school federations, who want to maintain a playoff without draining its resources.

  2. According to linked AP story the WIAA contends these “post season” events are private and not public. I say if it is public money to begin with it is public to the end. The CCS money woes do not erase one letter of that.
    In Louisiana, the state public high school association thought they could bypass the front door of the newspapers and force the newspaper photographers to sign an agreement, get this, on behalf of each newspaper, that no images of post season games would appear on our web sites because it took away from their revenue stream. Their money was a cut from a contract with a private photographer who sold his pictures on-line. The last time they tried to wrest away control of what would be reported to the public, via their “money woes” whining, here’s what happened. There was considerable discussion between newspapers and the public high school association. The talks were going no where. Finally, not one newspaper photographer appeared at the girls state basketball finals one year. Do you want to guess at who ended up getting slam-dunked because of a drop in revenue stream? I salute the publishers and editors of Louisiana on this one. Today, newspaper photographers are not asked to sign anything on behalf of any paper to enter any high school sporting event in this state. In the end, nobody’s right to commerce was challenged and/or removed (the private contract continues)and freedom of press was upheld by the newspapers who freely decided what they will do.

  3. Society, through governments, pays huge subsidies to accommodate sports events at all levels, from Little League, to school sports to professional and global games.
    Do not allow an association or league to forget that. If they’re incorporated as a nonprofit, pull their 990 forms and see for yourself where they’re money is going. Know their top salaries.
    I’ll bet my paycheck the 990 forms will show you the league doesn’t come close to paying what it costs to have e them around. What high school athletic department pays it’s own electric bill for nighttime football?
    And don’t even think they’d stop at protecting their right to a money stream, they also want to control content: http://www.anchoragepress.com/articles/2009/10/07/news/doc4acd3c1801bf5496928560.txt



  4. This is a great discussion. Thanks everyone.

    I hope many of you will read Scott’s column about the situation in Alaska. I told Scott in an e-mail that I thought it was possible to take the photo that caused the trouble up there and do it in a tasteful way that doesn’t anger the understandably upset parents on the scene. Take the photo. Don’t get in the way. Don’t hover over the injured athlete. And take it back to the office where cooler heads can decide whether the photo is newsworthy and tasteful enough to run.

    But don’t be bullied at the scene. You have a job to do.

    Thanks all for your perspective.

  5. With regards to the Alaska situation I concur with Clay’s basic approach to covering stories which unfold like that. We weren’t there and do not know exactly moment by moment what everybody said and did. Without knowing what the photographer did, if it had been my assignment, and I knew the importance of this runner who collapsed, I probably would have tried to have some distance between myself and the runner and I would not motordrive it. One to three nonchalant shots from some distance and I’d be done. If approached, I’d probably express my sincere concerns for the runner’s well being and I’m sorry this happened. At that point, if the parents and principal can’t understand that I’m doing my job, so be it. Whether we like it or not, we are usually performing on a stage in an auditorium of theatrical critics. And to the photographer in Alaska who might read this – this is easier said than done.

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