As I tweeted on Thursday, my national media credentials were revoked by the PGA Tour because I used Periscope, a new live-streaming app, to broadcast content during Monday’s practice round at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship. Here’s the background story behind the incident and the proceeding fallout.
Last month at the Masters, one of the swing instructors for a handful or so of PGA Tour players was browsing Periscope and raving about it. I didn’t know what it was and he showed me the different channels and explained the app to me. We were with a couple of other Tour types (not employees of the Tour / officials), and we started discussing it and someone (I can’t remember who) said it sounded like it was right up my alley and it would be interesting and fun to use during a practice round or on the driving range. One person suggested I sit behind the green of a hole and just show the various shots that the players were hitting in there — that kind of behind-the-scenes type of content. I thought it was definitely the type of alternative coverage that people would love to see and could spread more fanfare and interest in the Tour, its players and events, especially leading into the competition days.
Fast forward to this past Monday at TPC Harding Park. I was with a fellow media member and we stopped on the putting green to talk to Matt Jones. We watched him finish practice putting before heading to the first hole. My colleague was walking with him as he asked him questions. I started to take a picture of the first hole and then remembered Periscope and how I’d also been seeing reporters that cover other sports using it recently. (I’d seen another member of the golf media use Meerkat, an app similar to Periscope, to broadcast a press conference recently, as well.)
I opened the app and showed the first hole, and then Matt teeing off and walking down the fairway. I was telling him about the app while I was streaming. Comments started popping up on the bottom of the screen with questions for him, which I relayed and he answered. I remember seeing people saying things like, “This is exactly what Periscope was invented for…” — people seemed to really like the content and coverage, and I was getting all very positive feedback.
After that, I was watching Jordan Spieth on the range, and since he’s fresh off his victory at the Masters just a few weeks ago, I figured lots of people would likely enjoy watching him hit balls, so just at the spur of the moment, I pulled out my phone and started to use Periscope again. I was kneeling in front of a group of about a dozen fans, most of whom had their phones out either taking pictures or video.
When Jordan was leaving the range, I asked if I could walk and talk with him — I wasn’t planning on Periscoping this and did not. I was just trying to do my job and he said he was going to sign autographs before heading to the putting green, so I could catch him there later. After Jordan putted, he was getting on a golf cart to shuttle him to the 8th hole to play a practice round. I asked if I could jump in with him and chat with him during the ride. He said yes, of course.
Following that, as he was getting ready to tee off, I thought it was another perfect Periscope moment, so I started streaming the three players — Spieth, Ryan Palmer and Gary Woodland — hitting their drives. I kept receiving positive comments, like people saying, “More of this!” I was talking to the players and their caddies about the app and they seemed intrigued. I sporadically used Periscope to show shots here and there, and at times while I chatted casually with them. I made sure not to be in their face or get in their way, though.
I didn’t know how many people were even familiar with Periscope since it was pretty much brand new to me, but it seemed to be getting a lot of hype lately. I also wasn’t sure if it exactly constituted as “video,” since it was live stream and the content disappears after a certain number of hours. Thus, I figured there was enough wiggle room to post the clips (and I was not intentionally trying to violate the Tour’s regulations). The new media landscape is ever-changing with progressive technology, which includes apps such as Periscope. In retrospect, I should have called the Tour to double check and ask if I could use it, but obviously, hindsight is 20/20.
For purposes of full disclosure, I was warned earlier this year about posting several Instagram videos during Tiger’s Pro-Am round at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. That was an innocent mistake. Things in new media and technology are changing so quickly that sometimes I find it difficult and confusing to keep up with what constitutes as “OK” and what doesn’t.
The standards for enforcing the regulations are also incredibly hazy. I’ve been told by the communications director that they don’t fully enforce them and make judgments on a case-by-case incident. I asked him how the Tour monitored what media members were posting because I constantly see others tweeting pictures and video. He told me on Wednesday and also during a conversation in March that the Tour doesn’t have someone monitoring everyone and that they don’t enforce the regulations consistently because it’s human nature for people to take pictures and post them these days.
I understand the Tour has certain rules and regulations in place to protect their broadcasting partners, but this was a Monday (which I also now understand is technically during the tournament week). However, I was unclear with whether it conflicted with broadcasting rights since the practice rounds (to my knowledge) are not televised, nor was the somewhat raw, alternative footage I was showing. It was truly meant to spread fanfare for the Tour, its players and the event.
Fans — people who don’t have credentials — can Periscope until the cows come home, but the media is prohibited from providing the masses that don’t have the privilege of attending the event with fresh, interesting and different content. If I’m the Tour, I would encourage the media to use their access to Periscope during practice rounds as often as possible from Monday to Wednesday.
I was approached by a Tour media official on Wednesday morning who told me that he needed to confiscate my credential and that I would have to leave the premises. He said he was merely the messenger, but he had been instructed to take my credential because I took video of some sort during Monday’s practice round. I was shocked and confused. I asked him if I could talk to someone who had more knowledge of the situation and if I could call my management company to help me sort it out. He was sympathetic and understanding.
We agreed that I should call Joel Schuchmann, the director of communications for the Tour. When he didn’t pick up on his office line or cell phone, I left him two voicemails. He called me back in about a half an hour and he said I had violated the media regulations more than once and that was why my credentials were being revoked for the rest of the season. I protested and tried to appeal the punishment, but he said the decision was final.
I told him I had spoken to a representative from my management company, who was contacting Ty Votaw, the Tour’s EVP of Communications, to speak to him about the situation. Joel agreed to let me stay on-site Wednesday and do my job, while my manager tried to get a hold of Votaw. On Thursday, he heard back from Votaw, who did not appear willing to have a discussion or provide a further explanation on why my credentials were being revoked for the remainder of the season. He just said that I could reapply after the Tour Championship.
I understand that I broke a regulation and I respect that the Tour felt like there should be consequences other than a slap on the wrist. However, to my understanding, the punishment I received is unprecedented. I also believe it doesn’t fit the crime, particularly with the constantly growing forms of new media and the progressive nature of how we consume content, not to mention the gray area with how the Tour enforces its regulations.
In separate emails on Friday to Schuchmann and Votaw, I offered my assistance to producing a more constructive dialogue on cutting-edge platforms and providing coverage via new avenues of media. (I haven’t received responses yet.) At this point, I truly hope that the unfortunate situation only leads to a helpful and productive conversation on updating and modernizing the Tour’s regulations, along with concerns over TV rights in sports — on a larger scale beyond the golf world — with the advent of apps like Periscope.
*UPDATE: I heard back from Schuchmann, who said: “Most of your questions require a more expansive forum than email and would involve others at the TOUR. I can check on this next week if you like.”
He also offered a clarification to how the Tour enforces media posting photos and videos:
I saw your blog post and I believe you misunderstood my explanation on how we enforce our media regulations. We treat video/streaming and photos as separate entities in our regulations and the two should not be used interchangeably in regards to what is allowed for a credentialed “digital media outlet” such as Wei Under Par and its related platforms, or what is enforced by the TOUR.