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Southhampton Football Club bans photographers, newspaper responds [Updated]

Southhampton Football Club bans photographers, newspaper responds [Updated]

[Updated at 9:49 p.m.: The Guardian reports that the agency approached by the Southampton Football club, Digital South, has backed out of the deal.]

In a move to increase revenue, the Southampton Football Club recently imposed a ban on photographers and hired a local photo agency to distribute photographs from its home games. According to this report in The Guardian, the plan was announced during a press conference Aug. 6 as members of the media were applying for credentials to cover the team’s season-opening match against the Plymouth Argyle. Associated Press had the following story Tuesday detailing how a local newspaper, the Plymouth Herald, handled the ban.

By Stuart Condie
AP Sports Writer
LONDON (AP) — Plymouth Argyle’s first goal of the season stands a good chance of being its most artistic. A local newspaper printed a cartoon of it because Plymouth’s opponents had banned photographers from its stadium.

Southampton’s plan to boost income by forcing media to buy photos from an agency ran aground when the agency refused to distribute the images. So the Plymouth Herald asked a local artist to capture Argyle’s 1-0 win.

Chris Robinson watched Saturday’s third-tier game on television and came up with comic strip-style pictures of Luke Summerfield’s second-half goal and a save by goalkeeper David Button.

“It sounded like a bit of fun,” Robinson told The Associated Press. “Not thinking it would be such big news, I just knocked them out in a few minutes.

“I’m a bit embarrassed because, and I know everyone says it, I really could do better.”

Robinson already worked for the newspaper and had previously illustrated a book on the club and its former players. He recorded the match and paused the playback to make his sketches during a barbecue the following day.

Southampton, which was relegated from the Premier League in 2005 and is preparing for a second straight season in the third tier, announced last week that it had hired The Digital South agency to distribute photographs of its matches.

The Digital South owner Robin Jones acknowledged that he had been offered the exclusive rights but turned them down because of the precedent it would set, denying editorial independence and denying work to other photographers.

“We felt that we were between a rock and a hard place because we are sure that another agency or photographer might come forward to do this work for Southampton,” Jones said. “But it is not something we are prepared to do.”

Southampton did not return calls from The Associated Press but issued a statement saying that it planned to continue with its plans.

“The club has decided to make available to external media organizations photographic images taken by the club’s own professional sports photographers only,” Southampton said. “The purpose of this is solely to protect the club’s commercial revenues derived from the use of its wholly owned images.”

Southampton’s financial fortunes have waned along with those on the field. Having lost its best players following its exit from the Premier League, it was demoted again four years later and had 10 points deducted last season after going into bankruptcy protection.

But Southampton is not alone in trying to enforce draconian rules over photo distribution.

Scottish powerhouse Celtic backed down from a similar stance in 2002 when the country’s newspapers stopped covering its matches, while news agencies declined to cover international cricket in Australia in 2007 when the sport’s national body tried to control the flow of photos from stadiums.

Media outlets are concerned that a loss of editorial independence could mean that rights holders could withhold images that present them in an unfavorable light, such as a red card to a footballer or a petulant reaction by a cricketer.

“I disagreed with their stance on a total ban of photographers from any media source,” Jones said. “I voiced this opinion to the club and genuinely thought that the ban would not take place. It became clear to me on Thursday that this ban was indeed happening and so I rang the club to inform them of my decision to decline their offer.

“Basically, a ban on photographers is simply a bad idea.”
Robinson has been a freelance artist for 30 years. He said the attention he has received after the match has already led to offers of work from the BBC, a radio station that wants sketches of its presenters and a national magazine.

“I’m enjoying my 15 seconds of fame,” Robinson said.

Image credit: Chris Robinson

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