By Jim McDannald
Welcome to 2013. Thanks to increases in internet speeds and advancements in technology, we can now watch SportsCenter on the iPhone, video chat with our year-old nephew on a tablet and watch sporting events streamed live to our laptops.
Internet broadcasts of track and field meets have filled a gap. No longer is viewing restricted to watching events on television or attending the meet, you can see the best athletes in the world race from anywhere with a device and an internet connection.
As track’s popularity with major broadcasters languished, the online streaming of meets allowed fans to stay connected to the sport and witness outstanding performances. Thanks to the efforts of websites RunnerSpace and Flotrack, a number of historic races have been captured and saved for posterity. No longer confined to the pages of Track and Field News, the internet and these companies has brought broadcasts of college and professional meets into the homes of many a happy track fan.
But for meets hosted by PAC-12 schools, live broadcasts and archived replays are no longer allowed. Last weekend as cameras were rolling at the University of Washington Indoor Preview, Mary Cain ran the fastest ever 3,000 meters ever by a U.S. high school girl. However, a newly enforced policy from the PAC-12 prevented the race from being streamed. And there is no replay available either.
According to sources, RunnerSpace and Flotrack were informed by PAC-12 officials that they were only allowed to upload a three-minute highlight video from the meet. No live broadcast. No archived meet footage was permitted.
Why is a conference that does not even host an indoor track and field championship meet clamping down on coverage from an early season indoor meet?
The short answer is money and a newly created PAC-12 TV/media network.
College football is a huge revenue generator for Division 1 schools and the property rights for this content can be worth a lot of money. For example, The Big Ten Network (a partnership between the Big Ten Conference and Fox) made a profit of profit of $79.2 million in 2011. With the national success of football programs at USC and Oregon the PAC-12 saw the potential to form a network of their own.
So in 2011, “Pac-12 Enterprises” was created, which includes: the PAC-12 Networks and PAC-12 Digital. Their goal is:
” to control the distribution of the Pac-12 intellectual property rights in sports, and other Conference initiatives.”
And while some conferences aren’t stringent on the broadcasting rights of non-revenue sports like track and field, the PAC-12 Network appears to be clamping down on all PAC-12 content. In the announcement of the PAC-12 Network, they made a point to mention “Olympic sports”.
The conference pledged to:
“provide unprecedented exposure for both men’s and women’s programs that have been traditionally underserved on television. This includes extensive coverage of Pac-12 athletes in Olympic sports, where the Pac-12 has had more success than any other U.S. conference. Over 200 Pac-12 athletes competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and if the Pac-12 were its own country it would have finished sixth in the total medal count.”
Over the past year, PAC-12 Enterprises is moving towards making their content available online, but they are far from providing track and field the “unprecedented exposure” they claim. In June of 2012, PAC-12 Enterprises announced their plans to create a PAC-12 sports video website, Pac-12 Now (video.pac-12.com). Since the announcement, there has been little progress with regards to building out PAC-12 Now‘s coverage of track and field. The website’s Guide section, does not list any track and field meets scheduled for live broadcast. A video archive section features a few athlete profiles and a couple of three-minute recaps from each of the 2012 PAC-12 cross country championship races.
In it’s current stage of development it’s abundantly clear that PAC-12 Now is not able to deliver. If PAC-12 Now is not ready, why the decision now to restrict third parties (like RunnerSpace and Flotrack) from broadcasting or archiving PAC-12 hosted meets? The current actions of the PAC-12 Network seem to defy common sense. Since they own the rights to this content, it’s within their right to lockdown the coverage. But I fail to see what the PAC-12 gains by not allowing willing third parties to cover indoor track and field meets?
If the infrastructure is not in place to broadcast these meets on PAC-12 Network properties, the reasonable thing to do is continue letting RunnerSpace and Flotrack work with member schools and broadcast meets. By blocking the broadcast of these meets, the PAC-12 is missing an opportunity to spotlight the great accomplishments of the PAC-12, their member schools and most importantly hard-working high school, professional and college student-athletes.
Washington’s indoor meets at the Demsey Center, Oregon’s outdoor meets at Historic Hayward Field and Stanford’s Payton Jordan Invitational attract the best runners in the world, an internet audience from around the globe and showcases all the things the PAC-12 claims to care about. Failing to broadcast or blocking the broadcast of future PAC-12 track and field meets is a real loss for the “Conference of Champions”.
We contacted the PAC-12 office to get an official statement regarding their current position and were sent the following email:
Thanks for reaching out. With the launch of the Pac-12 Networks, they now own the rights to broadcast indoor track meets, and as the Conference is under the direction of our institutions, the institutions are the only entities that are allowed to stream the events (live or delayed). This is not an official statement, as I’ll have to consult our television liaison before taking an official stance. It may be worth reaching out to O.D. Vincent at Washington. In some instances, schools may commission outside help to manage the live stream of a particular event, in which case you’d likely be able to simulstream the meets.
An email was sent on Sunday Jan. 13th requesting further clarification and an official statement from the PAC-12. At the time of publishing, that email has gone unanswered.
Update 1/18/12 2:09 PM EST
Ken Goe of the Oregonian is reporting that University of Wasthington officials are working with the PAC-12 to figure out a compromise.