Manchester United has cut the number of photographers allowed to cover its home matches and launched its own agency on the web charging the media for pictures.
One editor is so alarmed about the Premier League champion’s new entry into the media industry that he has warned the newspaper industry to “wake up” before other big clubs, like Arsenal, follow suit. The National Association of Press Agencies’ Sports Group said it is considering legal action on behalf of its members banned from the club.
Manchester Evening News editor Paul Horrocks told Press Gazette his paper had been offered, but refused, Man United pictures of the club signing new stars Eric Djemba-Djemba and teenage sensation Christiano Ronaldo for £250 each.
Horrocks said: “This is the thin end of the wedge. Man United has now entered the commercial media arena. Other papers need to wake up to this as other big clubs, like Arsenal, are bound to follow United. It could be in ?ve years’ time that clubs will provide their own pictures from matches and we won’t go to the game at all.”
Photographers asking for passes to cover United’s matches at Old Trafford have been told it has changed its access policy for match days. From now on only photographers from the nationals, the wire services and three big picture agencies – Empics, Action Images and Getty — will be granted accreditation. The MEN still has access but has had a cut in its number of passes.
On Saturday, the number of photographers covering United’s game against Bolton was said to be down by by up to 25. Those at the match were alarmed to be told they could no longer work in front of the North Stand or stand directly behind either goal.
Manchester United communications director Paddy Harverson told Press Gazette that the new venture – manunitedpics.com – would give the media “added value” with access to intimate pictures of the players around the club that have never been available before.
He said there were two reasons behind the move to restrict numbers. “First, we have to control access just because of the numbers wanting to cover matches. Second, we have set up our own business around a picture library to supply fans and publications around the world via the website. “We operate like any other picture library. We don’t want to deny the main newspapers, agencies and wire services the chance to cover all our games and that will continue. We felt there were freelances and other agencies coming in and building businesses on the back of our games and images and it did not make sense for us commercially to let that continue.
We are charging what agencies would have charged.” Chris Johnson, chairman of the NAPA-Sports Group, said: “Manchester United is a great club, but they’re shooting themselves in the foot over this. They are overtly imposing a selective ban on an important sector of the press on supposedly commercial grounds. “Their argument appears to be that agencies are ‘making money from syndicating pictures’ and United seems to think it can grab this revenue for the club.”But it is wrong. The fact is that pictures are sold and published on merit and it will prove impossible to push sub-standard pictures by seeking to cease the supply from some of Britain’s most talented photographers.
“We are taking advice on the legal position, but before we embark on any court action we want to meet with Manchester United in the hope we can find a constructive way forward.”
Man United’s move comes at a time when the Premier League and the Newspaper Publishers Association has just agreed to extend its agreement for a year and was due to go through a process of consultation through the autumn to review the contract.
By Jon Slattery