Earlier this month, the SEC laid out a new policy for its 12 schools in regard to social media. For ticketed fans, the policy read that they could not "produce or disseminate (or aid in producing or disseminating) any material or information about the Event, including, but not limited to, any account, description, picture, video, audio, reproduction or other information concerning the Event."
Though somewhat vague in its wording, it was interpreted to mean no tweets. No video. No photos. No phone calls.
If you're thinking this seems overboard — really, I can't take a photo of my friend in the stands? I can't send out an update on Twitter that I'm sitting in Sanford Stadium? — you're not alone.
Fans complained. Social media experts scoffed. Bloggers mocked. Was the conference really this out of touch, this gripping on social media, this old guard?
Yes and no.
First, CBS and ESPN are paying the SEC $3 billion in broadcasting rights for its games over the next 15 years. These are exclusive rights, and it's huge money. A fan in the stands with video capabilities jeopardizes that. Further, by getting out ahead with a policy now, this covers the conference for the future, when cell phone video is more advanced and a fan's streaming feed from the stadium could actually be good enough to tune into from home.
So in regard to protecting video broadcasting rights, this policy makes sense. But what are they trying to protect by saying fans can't take photos of the band at halftime? What are they trying to protect if you can't call a friend to tell them the score? Can't update your Twitter account with a "Tim Tebow is on fire now!" while you're there?
By not allowing fans access to these social media platforms, the conference was denying itself free marketing tools from its biggest consumer: the fan.
"Social media is about growing your brand," said Brendan Wilhide, who runs Sportsin140.com. "These are fans. These are people that are devoted to the teams. If the SEC banned them from social media, it would not do anything good for their brand."
WERE YOU THERE?
Now that the SEC has seemingly loosened its restrictions on social media, you can start chronicling your SEC experiences with ESPN's Sports Passport. Enter the games you attend, upload your photos and share your memories! Start now »
But thanks to fans' outcry, some negative reaction from the media, recommendations from social media experts and the SEC's not quite having the language hammered down, Tuesday brought a change. The SEC released a new ticketed fan policy. Social media updates and photos are allowed, just as long as they're for personal use, and not commercial. Video is fine, as long as it's not game action. "Personal messages and updates of scores or other brief descriptions of the competition throughout the Event are acceptable," reads the policy. "If the SEC deems that a Bearer is producing a commercial or real-time description of the Event, the SEC reserves the right to pursue all available remedies against the Bearer."
Brilliant. A policy that not only protects the TV and broadcast issues, but one that seeks to satisfy the fans' personal social media freedom. If fans in the stands aren't tweeting about a game, people at home or at the bar will. But the more tweets — especially on-site ones from friends or users you follow — the more it will drive Twitter users to a game.
"I think that they understand now that there's value in [it]," said Gail Sideman, the owner/publicist at Publiside, a company that specializes in generating exposure for sports and authors. "I spoke with the folks at the SEC. I said: 'It will absolutely help drive people to your game. It will be an asset, not a liability.'"
On the SEC's end, a conference spokesman said there never was the intent to cut social media off from stadiums, but rather to protect video interests.
"The language was written, probably overreaching language, that gave the impression we were trying to," said Charles Bloom, the SEC associate commissioner for media relations. "So we felt we needed to revise the language of the policy to make sure that we were not going to curtail social media."
Those NFL teams still restricting fans' use of social media from their training camps? Other conferences that have yet to set a policy on this stuff? They'd be wise to follow suit with the SEC's final policy.
It just makes sense.