Football rights row stokes lock-out fears

Where’s the logo?:How some newspapers hit back this week by axing sponsors’ branding

Talks between the national press and football authorities have completely broken down raising fears that reporters and photographers could be locked out of Premiership and Football League games from the start of next month.

Long-running talks over rights of newspapers to report on basic information such as match scores, pictures of players and the identity of the goalscorers, ended in acrimony when an additional restriction was added to the list of demands by the leagues – a share of revenue from newspapers’ fantasy football games.

In retaliation, many national newspapers on Sunday andMonday took independent decisions to remove all logos and sponsorship branding from their pages – some even cropped photographs so that shirt sponsors’ logos were not visible.

Talks had been taking place on almost a weekly basis between Football DataCo Ltd, which controls ‘intellectual property’ rights to professional football on behalf of the Premiership and the Football League, and the Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents the national newspapers. The licensing deal that ran out at the end of last season had been extended until 31 October to allow these talks to continue.

But the NPA is furious that the Football DataCo would not budge on what it sees as fundamental press freedom issues.

Talks have centred on whether an embargo should be put on when newspapers are allowed to publish pictures on websites and other outlets such as mobile phones. Football DataCo initially wanted there to be up to two hours delay between games finishing and newspapers publishing pictures on web sites or mobile phone services. A further sticking point has been the reporting “windows” midway through each half, and at half time, during which information about unfolding matches can be sent by reporters to their news desks for publication.

But the final straw came last week when an extra restriction was added to the list of Football DataCo’s demands – fees for the use of data in newspapers’ fantasy football games.

“After an extra three months’ discussion, that’s a pretty big thing to lob in at the last minute,” said Steve Oram, director of the NPA. He sent a statement to the leagues on Saturday saying: “After long and protracted negotiations it has become clear to publishers that these discussions are going nowhere. In addition, it has become clear that there is an intention to impose accreditation contracts which publishers have told the NPA it will not be able to accept on their behalf… Meanwhile individual publishers say they have been forced to decide how they each will treat soccer in their individual titles and associated platforms.”

Most decided on Sunday and Monday to drop all logos from their league tables, and many cropped pictures so that sponsors logos were invisible or not prominent.

Oram told Press Gazette “There is such a strong feeling of anger over this among publishers, particularly over Football DataCo’s inflexibility and inability to understand the value of national newspaper coverage of football.”

“Publishers believe they are being fair and reasonable in trying to achieve a suitable balance between delivering the news and the needs of clubs. It is wrong to suggest that those interests are completely and diametrically opposed.

Publishers are concerned that this message, and our attempts to find a workable solution, is not being conveyed to all clubs by Football DataCo.”

With no further negotiations planned, sports editors are left wondering what will happen after October 31, when the present deal expires. Their biggest worry is that their reporters and photographers could be locked out when they turn up onmatch days -although no threat along these lines has been issued.

Previous research has showed that football sponsors’ exposure in national papers is worth £30mper season in commercial terms.

David Folker, general manager of the Football DataCo, told Press Gazette he was not mandated to speak on the issue on behalf of the Premiership or the Football League.

A statement from the two leagues said: “We are still open to negotiations”

By Ian Reeves and Jean Morgan

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