August 5th, 2007

Editorial: Media Photographers Aren't NFL Property

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

League rule transforms them into glorified billboards.

The National Football League is not living paycheck to paycheck.

According to Forbes magazine, the average value of an NFL franchise in 2006 was just under $900 million, an increase of 211 percent from when Forbes started calculating team values in 1998. The average operating income for each team was $30.8 million. It is—by far and away—the healthiest professional sports league.

So why has it instituted a new policy requiring all sideline photographers to wear vests advertising NFL sponsors Canon and Reebok?

Newspapers are justifiably up in arms over this rule. “[I]t is anathema to us that our employees should be put in the position of becoming walking billboards or be viewed as troublemakers for refusing to wear advertising materials just to do their jobs,” said Gilbert Bailon, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, in a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Godell.

The NFL has plenty of marketing opportunities. For instance, it could sell the naming rights of teams. Imagine Super Bowl XLII, with the Ameritrade New England Patriots and the GlaxoSmithKlein Minnesota Vikings.

Of course, it won’t do that. That would damage the league’s credibility and call into question its integrity.

But that is exactly what this policy does to the media outlets seeking to cover NFL games. It would turn journalists into de facto billboards.

Just as we don’t require a Star Tribune logo on Vikings uniforms as a tradeoff to cover their games, the NFL shouldn’t require our staff to hawk its products for league profit.

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