OAKLAND, Calif. — Try this next college basketball season. Splurge on the best video equipment you can find, take it to a game and start shooting. If you somehow have the technology, stream your footage live from the stands for viewers who might prefer a from-the-seats view with irreverent commentary by your slightly wasted best friend. If you can just record it, go home and turn the video into something even more unorthodox, maybe a game replay set to music, or just basketball with no commentary, no graphics, just occasional shots of the scoreboard.
Be creative. Go ahead. You might think the NCAA would object, perhaps even expect security guards to confiscate your equipment before you get through the door. Until Thursday afternoon, that would have seemed perfectly clear to any dolt who follows sports. Pricey TV and radio deals are supposed to cut you and your little post-millennial “Wayne’s Wide World of Sports’’ out of the loop.
But, if we’re to believe an NCAA attorney’s comments in open court, those TV stations only paid for “access’’ to arenas and stadiums on college campuses. They’re not paying for the rights to show the athletes performing in those venues. They hand over fortunes just to be let through the turnstiles of a public event.
The argument was intended to counter part of a lawsuit that asserts the rights of athletes to share in broadcast revenue because networks rely on their appearances for the programming. When NCAA attorney Gregory Curtner rolled out the “selling access’’ theory, Judge Claudia Wilken seemed to chuckle.
“Yea, I did see that,’’ Ed O’Bannon said later, outside the federal courthouse. A star on UCLA basketball’s 1995 national championship team, O’Bannon was the original plaintiff in this suit, which may grow dramatically if Wilken certifies a class-action case. He didn’t seem a bit surprised by the NCAA’s logic. “I think it’s bogus, but that’s how they go about things,’’ he said.
If the networks are paying only for access, how does that set them apart from a ticket buyer? They’re certainly not paying for exclusive access to the venues. A broadcast crew from another network can buy tickets to a game. It just can’t bring in its cameras and mikes, then send images of the game to the outside world.
Maybe that’s it: Rights fees are just very expensive season passes for equipment to get into venues.
If so, the grand streaming scheme could be a problem. Security could confiscate your video camera on the grounds that you didn’t buy access for it and that the very limited access for such items has already been sold.
But Curtner did not specify that. He just said the rights holders had never poured millions into capturing what the players do. They’re shooting footage of a venue, and if a bunch of athletes keep wandering into the screen, well, what are you gonna do?
If, as an average ticketholder, you decide to challenge this by interpreting your paid access as equal to that of a TV network, be sure to send a letter to Judge Wilken. She could use another laugh. Then, if you have to plead your case to the school’s athletic officials, be sure to remind everyone that you’re not doing this for a profit. Tell them you’re an amateur. They’ll like that.