Posted: 9:02 pm Thursday, January 13th, 2011

FHSAA backs other states in fight over high school sports video streaming 

By Matt Porter

The Florida High School Athletics Association is standing with its sister organizations in other states in a court case that will determine how the public watches high school sporting events online.

The FHSAA gave $1,000 to the Arizona Interscholastic Association, which is organizing support of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association in its battle with Wisconsin media companies.

On Friday, a Chicago federal appeals court will hear arguments in a case that will determine whether Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association has exclusive right to stream state tournaments games over the internet.

With support from Florida and a dozen other state high school organizations, the AIA filed an Amicus brief, or document filed by an outside party in support of a case. AIA Chief Operating Officer Chuck Schmidt said his group expected to incur $10,000 to $20,000 in legal fees in support of Wisconsin’s case.

“I would not be surprised if it went to the highest court,” AIA Chief Operating Officer Chuck Schmidt said. “It’s a unique issue that I would say is looking for some sort of finality.”

With rapidly developing internet video technology, the issue has been brewing for several years. In 2008, the WIAA sued Gannett and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association after The Appleton (Wis.) Post-Crescent, a Gannett newspaper, streamed high school football playoff games on its website without WIAA permission.

In June, a Wisconsin judge backed the WIAA, saying the WIAA’s exclusive contract with a streaming video company does not violate the constitutional rights of the news organizations. The news organizations appealed, leading to Friday’s court proceedings.

According to an article on the website of the newspaper the WIAA sued, the news organizations claim “the WIAA is a public institution and constitutionally required to give media access to cover the events with the technology available to them,” and that newspapers are fighting to cover events funded by schools that are funded by taxpayers.

FHSAA spokesman Seth Polansky said while the fight hasn’t reached Florida, the FHSAA stands in support of the state athletics organizations. At a cost of $10 per game, the FHSAA began streaming high school tournament games on its website in 2007, though a partnership with ezStream.com, a streaming video vendor. The FHSAA said the money was used toward the cost of the service.

Streaming of regular season games, Polansky said, is a matter between sites that stream video and the schools in question. During the postseason, media companies can shoot video as long as they follow FHSAA procedures — highlight packages for the evening news, for example. Fans can shoot recruiting highlights from the stands. But streaming entire games over the internet is not allowed.

“The FHSAA wants to reiterate, it’s not an FHSAA vs. the media thing,” Polansky said. “It’s just protection the copyright of our brand. We’ve never had to defend it, but the handbook of the FHSAA says the postseason is our domain.”

“We’re going with the judge that it’s a commercialization issue. They’re trying to protect their rights and privileges. That’s what the rationale was. We have the same rule.”

The FHSAA is the only source for streaming video of state tournament games. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

The FHSAA is the only source for streaming video of state tournament games. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

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