Journalists, of course, usually chafe at any attempt to handcuff their work. But as teams and leagues seek to crack down, some reporters see a pernicious effect on the quality of sports reporting. “We’re definitely being disadvantaged,” says John Cherwa, a deputy sports editor at the Los Angeles Times who serves as chairman of the Associated Press Sports Editors’s legal-affairs committee. “Some of these sports were built on the publicity that we in the media gave them. They need to remember that it’s important to have independent voices covering them.”
League and team officials acknowledge the news media’s needs but point out that sports are big businesses, too, with multibillion-dollar “partnerships” with sponsors and TV broadcasters. As such, “we have to protect our name and our brand,” says Tony Wyllie, the spokesman for the Washington Redskins and its owner, Daniel Snyder. “People associate value with the connection to the Redskins name. It’s our job to make sure that it’s used properly” to preserve that value.
The Redskins, who have been at the forefront in creating their own multimedia operations, have been aggressive in policing the use and misuse of their “brand” by others.
For many years, the “Redskins” name was used freely in the titles of local sports highlight shows on TV and radio. No longer. The team put an end to the practice several year ago, now only permitting “authorized” uses of its name — that is, under contractual agreement. Comcast SportsNet is the “official” TV network of the team, for example, and airs a highlight program called “Redskins Nation” hosted by Larry Michael, a broadcaster who is an employee of the team. At the same time, the Redskins produce a half-dozen interview and promotional TV shows through the team-owned Redskins Broadcast Network. The programs air on local stations during the football season.
The Redskins recently asked The Washington Post to rename the newspaper’s video webcast and blog about the team, which was called “Redskins Insider,” according to people who have knowledge of the circumstances. The team had used the name “Redskins Insider” first, and The Post agreed to switch to “Football Insider.”
To date, courts have given professional organizations such as the Redskins deference when the news media’s free-speech rights come into conflict with the teams’ contracts and copyrights. While the First Amendment prohibits governments from eclipsing the press’s freedom, private enterprises enjoy more discretion. That privilege extends to the NCAA, which is legally a private entity, despite representing the interests of hundreds of state-supported colleges and universities.