20090818 sec football game 18
The Ole Miss Rebels block an extra-point attempt by the Florida Gators during a game in Gainesville, Fla. in September 2008. - 


Tess Vigeland: It's almost college gridiron season. Teams are practicing in the summer heat to prepare for battle on the field. But another battle's happening off the field right now. The question is whether fans of the Gators, the Vols, the Tide and other Southeastern Conference schools will be allowed to Tweet and post live cellphone video from the stands. As Marketplace's Sam Eaton reports, the debate is all about TV broadcast rights.

SAM EATON: There's a reason the Southeastern Conference is one of college football's most profitable enterprises. It's got a $3 billion exclusive contract with ESPN and CBS.

And to protect that contract, the conference last week issued new rules for ticketed fans. No Tweeting. No iPhone photos on Facebook. No video on YouTube.

But after significant backlash the organization today revised those rules to prohibit only live video streams. Andrew Zimbalist is a sports economist at Smith College. He says this is just the kick-off in a much larger battle to protect traditional media.

ANDREW ZIMBALIST: They're obviously being told by their contractors that they want exclusivity. And they want protections.

But can fans armed with smart phones actually shrink TV audiences? Rafat Ali is the editor of PaidContent.org. He says the Southeastern Conference's policy exposes a fundamental misunderstanding of how people use social media sites.

RAFAT ALI: They will probably be multitasking between what's on TV and what's online, or a live stream where you're probably watching your friend giving a commentary for something that's happening on the field.

Ali says all that Twittering, Facebooking and Youtubing doesn't erode TV audiences, it boosts them, and all ad revenues they bring in.

ALI: I know that sounds a little A.D.D. but that's the reality of how things are at this point.

For college football's Big 10, that new reality is sinking in. It's new social media rules actually encourage fans to Twitter and Youtube.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

Follow Sam Eaton at @eatonsam