NFL Owners Change Sideline TV Photographer Ban

DURHAM, NC – Owners of the 32 National Football League teams voted in Phoenix on Monday to change their 2006 unanimous vote that banned local television affiliates from NFL sidelines during the games last season, forcing them to take a network pool feed or video from the NFL itself for use in their news and sports reports. This year team owners changed course and voted to allow up to 10 video crews to cover games from the field, five from the local market of each competing team.

“We are going to expand the pool feed system that we had last year to 5 local TV stations per team (10 total)," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told Advocacy Committee chairperson and NPPA's past president Alicia Wagner Calzada today. “It will continue to be a pool feed.” The footage will continue to be available to other stations that are credentialed for the game.

About last year's sidelines ban for local TV affiliates Aiello said, “We certainly recognized that the stations were not pleased, and we said that we would review the policy and modify it if we thought that it made sense. And that’s what we have done. We’ve always valued the coverage of the local stations and we continue to value it. We think these changes will improve the system and make it more efficient."

NFL owners were having their annual meeting, this year in Phoenix, AZ, when the NFL's broadcast committee reviewed last year's decision, Aiello said. The suggested change for this year was presented to the clubs and they accepted it. Aiello said that the changes were not an individual resolution like last year's ban, but instead was part of a bigger resolution relating to various broadcast issues that was passed when owners voted on Monday.

"This is a victory, but it's important to note that this does not take us back to where we were before the previous decision," Calzada said today from San Antonio, TX. "It is still limited, but it's better than it was before. With all of the entities trying to impose greater restrictions on photographers, it is so encouraging to see the NFL take this step. There is great value in the local television coverage of these teams and it would appear that they have recognized that. This is not just a win for the photographers and the stations, but it is a win for our viewers and for fans. They will be able to get better coverage of their teams and better stories. As journalists, we just want the ability to tell stories in the best way possible.

"The NPPA has fought hard against these restrictions since the day they were announced last year. This shows how important it is to push back when unreasonable restrictions are placed on access. The NFL, which is a private entity, could have tried to kept their restrictions as is, but there was enormous outcry from journalists, stations, and even lawmakers. We are thankful to hear that the owners have responded to these complaints," Calzada said.

Television news directors and press freedom organizations opposed the 2006 decision by team owners, saying that it severely restricted their ability to report on teams and to cover games. Politicians got involved, and legislation that would assure access to games in publicly funded stadiums was introduced in state legislatures in Michigan, Missouri, and Arizona.

"I am very proud of NPPA's Advocacy Committee - particularly Alicia and [attorney] Mickey Osterreicher - for the work they have done from the very beginning to make the NFL aware of our concerns with the local television access restrictions, and to reach a reasonable resolution," NPPA president Tony Overman said today. "The committee's successful efforts across the country each year have helped all journalists, not just NPPA members, retain their rights to First Amendment access."

In April 2006 Calzada, who was then NPPA's president, sent a letter to National Football League commissioner Paul Tagliabue, as well as to the 32 NFL team owners and each team’s public relations director, expressing NPPA’s “extreme disappointment” in the NFL owners’ unanimous vote ban local affiliate television photojournalists from sidelines during games. “We believe this decision is extremely short-sighted,” Calzada wrote on behalf of NPPA. “We call for the NFL and the league’s individual teams to reverse this destructive decision. We further propose that you work with industry groups like NPPA to create a solution that balances the needs and concerns of the NFL with the needs of the local media to properly cover your teams.”