By Jim McDannald
Good news today from the University of Washington athletic department. Two meets this February are scheduled to be streamed from the Dempsey Center with the possibility of a third, this’s weekend’s UW Invitational (Pac-12.com currently shows “Watch” link after clicking Sport and selecting Track & Field). Along with hiring a production team to broadcast the Husky Classic and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships, the University of Washington will be using a 32×18 foot LED board to improve the experience inside the Dempsey for attending fans.
You’ll notice there was no mention of a video archive from these meets. Pac-12.com, the website where the upcoming meets will be streamed, currently does not have that capability.
To understand the reasons for the lack of coverage from indoor meets this winter, it can be helpful to learn about the business of broadcasting track meets from the perspectives of the parties involved: the running websites, the university track and field programs/meet hosts and the Pac 12. A look at the past, the present and can give us an insight into what the future might hold for collegiate track and field meet broadcasts.
From 2008 to the end of last year, webcasts of track meets offered a way for running websites (RunnerSpace, Flotrack, etc) to attract visitors to their websites and bring attention to a mostly overlooked sport. When smaller meets and invitationals were first broadcast and archived on these sites, the Pac 12 did little or nothing to exercise their content rights. University track and field programs were happy to have the running websites broadcast their meets. Even though production value was low, the coverage gave some much needed and welcomed exposure to the sport, athletes, coaches and host schools. With the costs of video production being covered by the running websites, the university did not need to hire a video production crew and could focus team budgets on other aspects of their program. For the running websites, this content created traffic to their websites and advertising placed around the race videos allowed the them to collect some revenue. Overall, the Pac-12 had a hands off approach in those days.
Since the signing of the Pac-12 Networks contract, the Pac 12 has recently been more active in exercising their property rights when it comes to the broadcast of track meets. I want to emphasize that they are well within their rights to do so, they do own the content.
The most frustrating aspect of this decision is that their website, Pac-12.com, does not currently offer the same archived meet footage that the running websites offered in the past. Even without that capability, the Pac 12 decided that locking down this content is a reasonable next step in securing it’s current and future digital content.
If Pac-12.com is not fully functional, why is the Pac 12 doing this? The only conclusion I can draw is that they are trying to display a complete portfolio of sports coverage to attract potential sponsorship and advertising contracts for the Pac 12 Network. If meets are being archived on RunnerSpace and Flotrack is sponsoring a meet at a conference school, the Pac 12 has the appearance of not being in complete control of their content. Advertising dollars generated by embedding Pac 12 race videos are going the running websites and not the Pac 12. To eliminate this loss of revenue, the Pac 12 has decided to cut the running websites out of the loop. With no rights to broadcast or archive content, the running websites lose traffic and some advertising dollars the meet videos provided them.
Without running websites producing the coverage, the costs of video production are being shifted back to the university track and field program. They are now responsible for reworking their budgets and finding the funds to cover the production costs of these broadcasts.
Pac-12.com is a new site and just getting started. We’ll have to wait and see if the the Pac-12 Network builds out a website with the kind of live broadcast and archive viewing experience with which we’ve grown accustomed. If allocated properly, revenue generated from Pac-12 Network business and sponsorship deals have the potential to provide high quality coverage and help deflect some of the current production costs incurred by university track and field programs. It’s also conceivable that the Pac 12 would be willing to partner and co-produce content with the running websites in a way that is mutually beneficial. Until then, running websites will have to continue working to find and implement a business model that sustains their operations.
I hope that common sense will win out and a satisfactory resolution can reached soon that benefits the involved parties, university student-athletes and fans of the sport. Until then, I’ll just keep watching this video clip on repeat.