Approximately one year ago, I wrote the article "SEC to Ban Social Media at Games: 4th and Dumb" after reading that the conference was going to restrict the use of social media during all football games.
For those who may have forgotten, the policy stated that anyone who attempted to Tweet, Facebook Update, or take photos or videos during any SEC game would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. To most people, it was a dumb decision and I even went on CNN with a couple of other social media guys to express our disbelief.
Finally, after a huge public outcry by nearly everyone who had a Facebook account and a mobile phone, the SEC wisely revised its policy to one that allowed social networking, but restricted unauthorized video recording and broadcasting.
Later, the associate commissioner for media relations for the SEC Charles Bloom owned up to the gaffe during a presentation by saying, “We blew it guys.”he said. “It was very overreaching.”
One Year Later
The anniversary of this decision has arrived, and I thought I'd take a look at where the SEC stands on social media going into this season. Did they make the wrong decision? Will they once again revise their policy based on what they found out over the last year?
After doing a little research and investigation, here's what I found.
The SEC loves social media...so far
Okay, love is probably a strong word, but based on what I could find, there is nothing that would indicate that social media is being considered a threat on a serious level, except for those trying to broadcast the game without permission. In fact, it looks like the SEC has embraced the old saying "When in Rome, do what the Romans do."
Not only have they allowed fans to utilize social media, but they are getting into the act themselves.
The SEC Ticket Policy remains unchanged
First off, the revised ticket policy has remained unchanged from its revised wording last year:
No Bearer may produce or disseminate in any form a “real-time” description or transmission of the Event (i) for commercial or business use, or (ii) in any manner that constitutes, or is intended to provide or is promoted or marketed as, a substitute for radio, television or video coverage of such Event. Personal messages and updates of scores or other brief descriptions of the competition throughout the Event are acceptable.
Based on some initial searching, no one using social media during an SEC game last year compromised the value of a game or reduce the broadcast rights of the SEC-ESPN TV partnership or in any other conference. If anything, I believe having social media actually helped it.
As more and more people started to use social media to connect and communicate before, during, and after games, the value of social media started to become clear and the SEC realized that it needed to jump into the fray to add their voice to the party.
The SEC created significant and vibrant social media channels for themselves
A quick look at the SEC website showcases that they have two official social media channels: Twitter and Facebook.
Not bad for a conference that was willing to prosecute a fan on the basis of sending the following tweet:
"At the game, we're winning. No beer. Need more Cheetos. #@%^* War EAGLE!"
If that doesn't speak volumes of how the SEC has changed their tune on social media, I'm not sure what would.
However, it's still all about the money
With a year under its belt, the SEC is starting to understand the value of social media and treating it as a value than a detriment to the fan experience. They have taken the right steps in starting official channels and now has room to grow and become more sophisticated in developing their presence.
But at the end of the day, regardless of how big its Twitter or Facebook following becomes, the SEC's first love always will be it's $2.25 billion media deal with ESPN. In order to survive, it will need to keep that relationship healthy and if that means restricting social media to preserve the deal, so be it.
That's okay for right now because there is nothing really testing that relationship, but as social media and technology continue to evolve and push the boundaries, especially in terms of broadcasting live video, watch out for the sparks to fly. Not just between the SEC and ESPN, but ultimately between the SEC and the fan base it is growing through social media.
Inevitably, one person will be caught trying to broadcast the game live using his cell phone. They will be prosecuted, as they should, to the full extent of the law. Mainly to show how serious the policy is.
However, once that precedent is made, I can only image the SEC will start to wonder if everyone who is using a phone will look guilty just for the fact they are pointing their camera to the field.
When it does, what started out as a budding romance could turn into fans doing the walk of shame out of Ben Hill Griffen, Sanford, or one of the other stadiums in the conference every Saturday.
Some may have been doing FaceTime with a family member also watching the game at home. Others may have been taking still shots and uploading it to Facebook.
I believe most won't be using it to broadcast live from the game, but it won't matter. It only takes one and the rest will suffer.
And if that happens, hell hath no fury like an SEC fan (with an active twitter account) scorned.