Soccer is the world’s most popular sport, and the English Premier League is its most popular professional league. This includes the United States, where the league’s television broadcast ratings doubled from 2012 to 2013, and have now surpassed those of the US’s own Major League Soccer.

The Premier League has reaped the benefits of its growing American popularity, signing a three season $250 million broadcast deal with NBC for 2013-2016 (though a small amount compared to the $4.86 billion BSkyB paid for three seasons of British broadcast rights).

However, along with the increase in access and interest has come increased social media attention, and the Premier League recently announced that this season it will be cracking down on fan-created GIFs and Vines of match highlights, actively removing such content and possibly pursuing legal action against repeat offenders.

Though different technologies, online GIF makers — like the newly unveiled GIF Youtube — and the Twitter-owned mobile app Vine, allow users to create short repeating video clips online, with a maximum length of six seconds for Vine.  With live NBC broadcasts and the pause and rewind capabilities of modern DVRs, Premier League’s primarily young and Internet-savvy American audience can easily record goals and other exciting plays on their smart phones, create a short clip of the highlight, and share it through social media services such as Twitter.

The Premier League opposes these fan-created highlights as breaches of copyright, having sold  the exclusive rights to provide mobile and online match highlights to News International for approximately $33 million.  However, while the league may have a technically valid legal argument, the approach is short-sighted.

For one, removing such content seems a futile task, as it can be easily created, shared and recreated again by thousands of diffuse users.  Moreover, it is not entirely clear that the content creators are violating copyright law — because the clips are so short and not used commercially, they likely could qualify as fair use.

More importantly, Premier League’s approach risks alienating its excited and rapidly growing American fan-base.  Premiere League’s loyal viewing fans do not substitute fan-created content for watching actual match broadcasts; viral GIFs and Vines of the best highlights merely enhance their viewing experience.  Further, viral social media content will help continue the growth and attract new American fans – especially those newly interested in soccer after this summer’s World Cup.  The league’s revenue from online and mobile highlights is a very small fraction of its overall broadcast revenue, and allowing unrestrained American growth will allow it to secure an even better broadcast deal when its current one with NBC expires in 2016.

Rather than waste its resources scouring the social media accounts of its most rabid American fans, the Premier League should concentrate on expanding upon its already impressive growth in the United States.

–Marshall Cox

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One Response to Kicking and Streaming: Premier League Takes On Fan-Created Highlights

  1. Mallik Yamusah says:

    Another World Cup has passed, and once again, there is a debate about how much soccer popularity is growing in America. During the summer, Americans had unlimited access to the best soccer the world has to offer. While the MLS has continued recognize this growing support by increasing the size of its league with new teams in New York, Atlanta and Miami, this article accurately shows that the Premier League risks increasing its gains here by cracking down on GIFs and Vines of match highlights. The World Cup is the world’s greatest international single sport tournament; however, it alone can not raise the sport’s popularity in the U.S. to be comparable with our four major sports here. Greater access to highlights increases exposure to matches and helps catches the attention of more causal fans. As a Liverpool fan, I hope that the Premier League’s popularity will continue to increase and the league will not be responsible for stunting its own growth.