Reporter reprimanded for over-tweeting NCAA game; who owns second-screen rights?

By Cory Bergman 

Sports leagues have always held a tight rein on real-time stats, but what if you’re a credentialed reporter tweeting during a game? The University of Washington has reprimanded a reporter this week for tweeting too much — 53 tweets in all — during a NCAA basketball game, reports GeekWire. How many is too many? While “real-time” coverage is limited to rights-holders, the UW allows “periodic updates of scores, statistics or other brief descriptions of the competition” as long as these updates are limited to 20 during baseketball games and 45 during football games.

Reporter Todd Dybas’ tweets were a mix of color, analysis and action, from short tweets like “What touch!” to “N’Diaye with a career-high 17 boards and counting.” It’s certainly no substitute to watching or listening to the game live, but it’s clearly a valuable second-screen stream of complementary coverage.

UW’s policy is among the most restrictive in college sports — Oregon’s athletic department reacted by telling reporters, “Tweet away!” — but it raises an interesting question. Will the sports leagues, schools and teams tighten coverage restrictions to ensure they have a second-screen advantage, too? And where do you draw that line?

Sports leagues are beginning to see the second-screen opportunity emerge beyond real-time stats. The NFL produced a game day program for the Super Bowl in an iPad app, but it was rather straightforward — a digital magazine. What if game day programs became a weekend staple, reinvented for tablets, available to everyone at the game and at home for $1.99 a pop? What if they contained real-time analysis, polls and community along with those stats? And what if they displayed interactive ads in sync with the broadcast — or ads that expand the value of the team’s in-stadium sponsors?

That’s another big revenue opportunity for rights-owners and rights-holders in sports, which may help motivate them to attempt to limit the ability for others to create competing experiences. “Expect less coverage going forward because of this policy,” Dybas tweeted.

While Dybas certainly brings a lot of expertise to the table, his reprimand isn’t going to put much of a dent in Twitter’s second-screen experience because of the collective output of the crowd, spanning fans, students and the press. It will be very difficult for the leagues and the schools to clamp down on real-time reactions, informed or otherwise, that constitute the bulk of a second-screen experience. The best approach would be to aggressively pursue these new opportunities themselves, instead of tightening restrictions on others.