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Posted at 12:45 PM ET, 07/30/2012

The Redskins, press conferences and radio rights


(Manuel Balce Ceneta - AP)
Last Wednesday, Robert Griffin III gave his first press conference of training camp. Griffin is being limited to six non-game day media sessions this summer, and — as the most touted Redskins rookie in years — his first comments were treated as a huge deal by local media outlets.

At least three D.C. television networks went live with Griffin’s 5:30 p.m. press conference, as did Comcast SportsNet and the NFL Network. ESPN 980 (the team’s flagship radio station) also carried the press conference live, and 106.7 The Fan planned to do the same.

But shortly before the press conference began, Redskins Senior VP of Communications Tony Wyllie objected, saying it was a broadcast rights issue and threatening to revoke the station’s credentials if they proceeded.

This has raised a bunch of questions. So here are some answers.

(And in the interest of transparency, I should note that my colleague Mike Wise hosts a show on 106.7 The Fan when he’s not in London covering the Olympics. LaVar Arrington, who does work for The Post, also hosts a 106.7 program. I haven’t talked to either of them about this issue.)

Why did 106.7 want to broadcast this press conference?

“We cover news events all the time,” 106.7 program director Chris Kinard told me. “Everyone else was covering it live, regardless of whether they were official partners and paying the Redskins or not.... This was a huge news event that every outlet in Washington, D.C. was covering live. It wasn’t just a sports thing; it transcended that. They’re only making him available six times in the preseason — they set it up so that this was a big news event, and then they expect us to not cover it? That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”

Why did the Redskins object?

Wyllie told me that the team was “protecting our radio partners,” and did not violate any NFL rules. He also referred me to a statement from an NFL spokesman.

“NFL clubs can grant exclusive live press conference rights to radio partners,” the statement read, explaining further that this is a “team decision....Per league rules, as long as the club is not preventing accredited media from attending these media availabilities, it is not a violation of league policy.”

Would other teams have dealt with this the same way?

Wyllie told me that his previous NFL employers — including the Texans and Titans — would have handled a preseason press conference similarly.

I wanted to get a sense of other teams’ policies. So I contacted five high-profile teams: Washington’s three NFC East rivals, plus regional competitors in Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

A Ravens spokesman said that certain events might be held back for the flagship radio station, but that training camp press conferences are not one of them, and that the team wants “as much live Ravens TV or radio as we can get.”

A Cowboys spokesman wrote that any radio station can carry press conferences live, and that “every day for the next five months, they are all carried live on all three sports stations in this market.”

A Steelers spokesman explained that the Steelers don’t hold formal press conferences during training camp, but that Mike Tomlin’s in-season weekly press conferences, for example, are carried by multiple radio stations. Radio rights for other events would be determined based on circumstances.

A Giants spokesman told me that an introductory preseason press conference “is a news event,” and that the team has never limited the radio rights or number of outlets that wanted to carry a news event live.

And an Eagles spokesman wrote that his team does not limit the number of radio or TV outlets that want to carry preseason or regular season press conferences. “The more the merrier,” he wrote.

How are such issues handled with other teams in town?

Apples to oranges, of course, but out of curiosity I asked Comcast SportsNet about its access to Nats’ press conferences that are carried live on MASN, the team’s flagship station.

CSN, I was told, has taken Nats news conferences live in the past — including when Stephen Strasburg was introduced to the local media — and has the option of taking Davey Johnson’s post-game news conferences live.

Is there another issue that makes this situation unique?

Dan Snyder owns Red Zebra Broadcasting. ESPN 980 employees have “redskins.com” e-mail addresses. This is not a typical flagship radio station.

Wyllie said that fact has nothing to do with his actions last week, and that he would have done the same thing to protect any broadcast partner.

Red Zebra VP of Programming Chuck Sapienza said he never spoke to Wyllie about this issue, and that he had nothing to do with the decision to block 106.7 from broadcasting.

But Kinard said during the first conversation he had with Redskins public relations in 2009 (before Wyllie arrived), he was told the team views his station as the competition. That attitude, he said, has not changed, and helps explain why a positive news event would be kept off his station’s air.

“I’ve never heard of it being done before, here or anywhere else,” Kinard said. “I don’t understand why they would want to do it. Well, actually, I understand exactly why — it’s because they own our competition. They own 980. I think listeners can make up their own minds about the relationship between the radio station and the team, if they’re going to make these kind of decisions about news coverage. I think that calls into question the entire relationship.”

Why does any of this matter?

For many Redskins fans, this doesn’t matter at all. I get that.

But I still think it does matter, for three reasons:

* A day that was supposed to be 100 percent positive for the Redskins — the introduction of a telegenic, popular, highly touted star who never ever says the wrong thing — was marred by bad feelings and disappointment, at least in some circles. Why would you want to do anything to sully what should have been a perfectly happy day?

* A lot of D.C. sports fans consume sports radio via 106.7 The Fan.. These listeners are still Redskins fans. Why would you want to deny them the chance to listen to the new face of the franchise speak?

* The Redskins have a history of bullying local media members, from banishing Rene Knott to a parking lot to calling TV stations to complain when I embedded their embeddable videos to suing Washington City Paper.

I would submit that threatening to pull a radio station’s credentials three minutes before it planned to broadcast an innocuous news conference feels like a continuation of that tradition, even if the team was within its NFL rights.

By  |  12:45 PM ET, 07/30/2012

Categories:  Redskins | Tags:  Tony Wyllie, ESPN 980, 106.7 The Fan, Redskins Park, RGIII, Robert Griffin III

 
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