Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The latest sports related lawsuit - Media Update 5/12

There is no name for this yet, so I'll call it the "Sports Likeness and Permission" controversy. In late April, a Federal District Court judge in Minnesota had ruled in favor of CBS Interactive regarding its use of "information" about football players without first getting permission from sports leagues. It is another step in what seems a mounting battle about the use of actual player performance statistics for fantasy, board, and computer games. But the difference between pro and college players becomes a factor on the latest development.

Then, last week, a lawsuit involving former University of Nebraska QB Samuel Keller against the NCAA and EA Games (Electronic Arts) for allegedly misappropriating his likeness in video games that simulate college matches, and he is seeking class action status.

While I'm not here to (nor am I capable) offer a legal opinion, the interesting part of this lawsuit to me is Keller's claim that the NCAA "wrongly approved" for a game company to use actual player likenesses in games, and is also profiting from having done so.

EA Games profits from Division I college football and basketball games every year, in which it uses computer graphics to depict specific teams and players, including a likeness to "perform" within its games. There have already been several court rulings regarding the rights of game companies and media organizations (including fantasy sports web sites) to use publicly accessible player statistics.

What is also interesting to me is how little media attention this story is getting. The same local stations and TV and radio networks which pay millions of dollars for rights to broadcast the games and performances of these players. The same stations and print + online media which broadcast and/or publish "fantasy update" stats to draw viewers, listeners, and readers on a regular basis.

From the fans' perspective, these video and virtual games with actual players "performing" (as opposed to only a statistical reflection) will continue to exist and be as current as possible.

Actually, they will benefit by all of this. The publicity of this lawsuit will call even more attention to these games where players "perform". (Fantasy leagues are based on actual in-game statistics - where is in a virtual game, a player designed to physically and performance wise resemble specific players are involved in an actual game setting.)

If the court rules against virtual games and they would need to cough up royalties (as this lawsuit seeks), the game companies would realize that they would then have to significantly increase prices. Not a viable move in this econonmy. But they would have an out. All they need to do is create nameless characters who resemble certain teams and hold to those teams and player statistics. For example, they could put out a college football fantasy game, with 2 of the teams being "Lincoln vs. Norman". The players and statistics would match those as the universities in the towns of Lincoln and Norman, and not have to pay any royalties.

Fans in the know would figure out that these really represent the U. of Nebraska and Oklahoma (which play in Lincoln NE and Norman OK respectively) and simply insert the appropriate player names on their home version.

Hopefully the courts will make some defined rulings, such as pro vs. college players and fantasy vs. virtual instead of this going case by case. Maybe it's time to plan a radio and TV show to help virtual game players match the statistics against the "real" teams.

Meanwhile, after months of suggesting this, an attempt to make HD Radio relevant is finally entering the sports community. WXDX Pittsburgh will launch an HD channel specific to the NHL Penguins and NHL Radio this September, to coincide with the start of training camp. As I have been suggesting, this will be a dedicated 24 hour channel, and is expected to include broadcast replays, historical game replays, and innovations such as broadcasts of the Penguins' minor league team games. This announcement comes shortly after WXDX announced a new 6 year contract with the team.

While this is believed to be the first 24 hour channel dedicated to a team, there is also KRLD in Dallas planning to use an HD channel for "extensive coverage" of the Cowboys.

It's a start!

Meanwhile, I am delighted about ESPN hiring Matt Millen as a football analyst starting for the coming season. His new role will include both college and pro games, although his NFL analysis is limited to studio work for Monday Night Football. Here's hoping he is judged for his broadcasting ability, was was excellent several years ago on Fox, and not against his General Manager duties for the Detroit Lions.

NEW YORK - WEPN 1050 has renewed with N.Y. Giants players Eli Manning and Brandon Jacobs for weekly appearances during the coming season. These will be done at separate times.

This is fine as long as both players continue reasonable media cooperation at other times. It is certain players who sign media contracts and then take the "I'm not getting paid to talk to you" attitude that ruin this type of arrangment.

LOS ANGELES: The Dodgers continue to unveil their "Women's Initiatives Network" program as a means to attract more of a female audience. Now they have hired Janne Zelasko, known to baseball fans as the former host of Fox-TV baseball coverage for the past few previous seasons, to call play-by-play of Wednesday home Dodgers games for the rest of this seasons. Her call, along with Mark Sweeney as analyst, will be heard on www.Dodgers.com/win. I didn't know that women weren't happy with Vin Scully and Charlie Steiner handling the call.

Speaking of calling Dodgers games, still another (and well deserved) award for the 60 year voice of the franchise. On Monday night (5/11), Vin Scully received the Sports & Entertainment Ambassador Award of Excellence from the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission at a dinner held at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.

SAN FRANCISCO: The Oakland A's struggle to call attention to their games has suffered another blow, however temporary. Many fans have given up on the weak signal radio coverage in place for this season. Now, Dish Network has dropped some A's games due to more negotiation problems with Comcast SportsNet. This on the heels of a report that last week the Giants telecasts delivered more than 5 times the total audience of the A's games - when they were available on Dish Network. This could be an attempt by Dish Network to gauge interest in the A's before they pay to the piper (CSN) to carry all of the games once again.

SEATTLE: The addition of KIRO 710 to all-sports and the move of all-news to KIRO FM at 97.3 has influenced news rival KOMO. Starting this Friday (5/15), KOMO 1000 will simulcast on 97.7 FM. This means the end of "the Eagle" and its classic hit music format.

DENVER: Jim Armstrong of the Denver Post returns to sports talk radio on July 13th. After a 2-year stint during afternoon drive on The Fan 104.3, Armstrong will join Les Shapiro during morning drive on KCKK 1510 starting at that time. Shapiro will continue with guest co-hosts until that time.

Former Colorado University QB Joel Klatt has joined Nate Kreckman on the 3 - 6 PM show on 1510 as of last week. Klatt has other local broadcasting experience prior to this.

No word yet about a new radio play-by-play voice for the Denver Broncos for the upcoming season. It seems that another casualty of Clearance Channel was David Diaz-Infante, who had called the games on KOA 850.

WASHINGTON D.C.: Congrats to former Redskin Brian Mitchell on being named to the Redskins' "Field Ring Hall of Fame" during a game next season after his 10 years of special teams work for the Redskins. However, Mitchell had been working in radio ever since. Only days after learning of his honor from the team, Mitchell was let go from 890 ESPN after more than four years hosting or co-hosting various shows.

One other important fact to all of this. The radio station is one of the stations owned by the Redskins' owner.

RALEIGH: Congrats to The Buzz 850 Sports Radio upon a 25% increase in total weekly audience according to the recently released first quarter ratings.

HUNTINGTON: Congrats to Paul Swann of WVHU 800 on a first place and two second place awards at the recent West Virginia Associated Press Broadcasters Association Awards Banquet held in Charleston. Swann too honors for "Best Host" and received Honorable Mention for "Best Sports Talk Show".

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