Video Rights Killed the Future Tennis Star: Why I Can’t Shoot a Point at a Challenger
Stephan Fogleman, Tennis East Coast
I arrived at the Boar’s Head Sports Club in Charlottesville, Virginia first thing on Monday. I looked forward to doing voiceovers of some video highlights of the first day of main draw play in Charlottesville.
I said hello to a couple of very good guys, Tournament Director Ron Manilla and Charlottesville Daily Progress reporter/tournament Media Director Scott Ratcliffe. And off I went.
I get to the balcony that overlooks the courts and I look around. I am the only person there who doesn’t work for the club, the USTA, or otherwise get paid for being here. OK, the only one not getting paid who wasn’t a ball person.
And then I set up my tripod. I start to video a few frames of Laurent Rochette qualifying below me.
About a minute later, I happened to look over to the USTA announcer doing live-stream of the event. He has a look of shock on his face and he’s staring at…me.
I looked behind me to make sure that I wasn’t about to be attacked by a Central Virginia-version of Jack the Ripper, such was his countenance of impending doom. We made eye contact for the longest time before I broke it to take a look at the action below.
I returned to watching the tennis until a man with a Puka Shell/Dreamcatcher necklace stood next to me and said nothing. The necklace he was wearing may have been the singular worst men’s fashion accessory choice I have ever seen in my entire life. And I live in Baltimore.
He’s about 3 inches away from me and the camera, so close I could see my reflection in the jangly hot mess which hung from his neck. I could do little but stare at the necklace and wonder if it was a distant cousin of the one that nearly got Greg Brady killed in Hawaii forty years ago.
I finally said, ‘May I help you?’
He said, ‘What do you think you are doing?’
I explained to him that I was a blogger and I was shooting some clips to do a daily recap.
Or I may have told him I was learning about Cuba and having some food.
Hard to remember now.
He then says to me, ‘Do you have rights?’
I responded that I’m supposed to be afforded rights under the Constitution, but given the disclosure of some of the nefarious surveillance methods our government has been employing of late, I wasn’t sure our rights were being upheld. And that I would love to talk about this in more detail, but there’s a match going on below us right now.
He told me that he was talking about video rights and that I could not disseminate any video images from the Challenger without express written consent from the USTA.
You could tell he was seething on the inside that I hadn’t turned my camera off intuitively when I saw his Pro Circuit shirt or that I didn’t immediately recognize him for who he was.
He informed me that I needed to immediately email the USTA to ask for permission before disseminating any recording. I told him I would and turned back to my viewfinder.
He did not like this.
He said, ‘What are you doing?’
I responded that I was going to record set point and send the email.
He responded with ‘OK, as long as you promise me that you won’t upload any of these videos until you have permission from the USTA.’
I promised. As promised, you got no highlight reel, players. You got no highlight reel, fans.
But you do have live streaming all week for all 1,876 compulsive tennis gamblers around the world.
I did send that email and received a prompt, professional reply from the USTA, who told me it was probably too late to consider the request because they were already dealing with video rights requests for the Har-Tru season next year.
Believe me, I understand that rules are rules. But I have to wonder: Shouldn’t the USTA Pro Circuit be more worried about increasing attendance and exposure at its events?
I think therein explains why I was singled out in the first place. Because I was the only one there who didn’t work there. I was the new boy in school. Actually, I was the only boy in school.
Or maybe it was the tripod.
I hate you, tripod.
If this was all about money, I might understand the rationale. But it can’t be all about money, because, well, there is no money on the Circuit.
I cannot imagine that live streaming of these events brings in millions of dollars per year. It’s not possible to make that kind of money when it’s clear that there’s only sparse local interest in the events even when they charge no admission.
The USTA Pro Circuit controlling what you see of their Challengers translates into less exposure for the players. If the Pro Circuit spent significant production time on highlights/recaps as they do at major events, then I could see why they wouldn’t want the competition.
But they’re not doing early tournament interviews or video recaps or highlight reels at these Challengers because there is indeed no money in it for them.
If the event were actually televised by a real television network, and I include the Tennis Channel here, then I would understand the prohibition.
It seems to me that the Pro Circuit wants to protect a product that doesn’t have a lot of demand. One way to increase demand is to increase exposure. That’s apparently one method they don’t want to try.
For the fans, it means that you have to watch the whole live stream all day to catch an occasional great point. That’s your only choice. No daily recap, no quick and dirty highlights. And they don’t even archive the matches online.
Wasn’t this why Sportscenter was invented in the first place?
As with everything else, like conflicts of interest, the USTA can’t have it both ways, but they always seem to get away with it.
They are not being injured or losing compensation because a blogger takes video from court side.
Instead of going after the folks who upload entire US Open matches on youtube without authorization, they’re worried about me grabbing match point by an obscure player named Laurent Rochette for a Day 1 recap.
Either use those exclusive rights to promote these players in interviews and highlight reels, or let the rest of us do it for you, USTA. Period.
To keep these players virtually locked up and kept away from the eyes of fans worldwide is a disservice to these phenomenal athletes.
As an aside, there are seven challengers wrapping up all over the world this week in Geneva, Charlottesville, Montevideo, Seoul, Traralgon, Casablanca and Eckental. On your iPhone ATP scoring app, you can pull up the draws for all of them–except Charlottesville.
Ask any player who was in Charlottesville this week and they’ll tell you that the tennis was much, much better than the officiating.
Maybe the Supervisor could have gotten right on that, if he weren’t so busy enforcing intellectual property law on a product that you apparently can’t even give away for free.