Restrictions on Photographing Sports Events

photographer taking pictures at marathon

With the recent advancement of digital journalism and Web sites such as YouTube, venues are placing restrictions on photographing sports events in the United States. According to current law, sporting events held on private property are subject to restrictions imposed by the venue. There are a variety of restrictions that limit the style and size of cameras, cases, tripods, flash modules, and lenses.

Private versus Public Property

The location (venue) of the sporting event determines the legality in which photographs may be taken. According to case law, there are two classes of property: private and public. Most professional stadiums or fields occupy private land; a person or company owns and controls the property. As owners of the land, they have the right to block or restrict photographing of sports events.

The community, local, state, or national government owns and controls public property. The land is not controlled by a joint entity and is communal in nature. Public property includes municipal ballparks and fields (primarily used for youth sports leagues). One must not ascertain permission from the venue prior to taking photographs at the event.

Permission and Consent

Despite the restrictions imposed by venues, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that photographers may take pictures of individuals on public land without their permission.

It is common courtesy to obtain a written release when photographing individuals for publication on YouTube, in newspapers, magazines, Web sites, etc. In addition, parental consent needs to be obtained for minor(s) under the age of 18. Consent forms protect the interests of the photographer and subject while instilling professionalism.

Types of Restrictions on Photographing Sports Events

Major and minor league ballparks differentiate professional and personal-use equipment in their photo policy ensuring the privacy of their players. Personal-use equipment includes basic point and shoot and digital SLR cameras. The same rules and conditions are applicable to film-based devices.

Professional equipment includes industrial-grade photographing technologies, primarily large and bulky SLR cameras that otherwise interrupt the experience for the surrounding audience. Facilities also limit the use of professional accessories, including flash modules, tripods, and lenses.

Camcorders are traditionally prohibited from the venue, whether personal or professional. Recording video infringes on the venue or team's contractual arrangements with local media outlets and national broadcasters. It is acceptable to record interactions between friends or audience members; given there is no reference to the venue, team, or athletes.

The Photographer's Motive

Regardless of the camera you are using, facilities may restrict you from snapping pictures if your motives are professional and you do not have the proper authorization. It is unnatural for someone to snap pictures every 2-3 minutes during games - even if he is using a basic point and shoot digital camera. If the photographer is a member of the press, or part of a professional organization he should make arrangements with the facility in advance of a sporting event.

Facilities are less inclined to impose restrictions on photographing sports events for personal use. Examples of "personal use" include taking periodic photos of favorite players from their seats. Additionally, the venue will not restrict fans from shooting photos of their friends or colleagues, assuming their conduct is not disruptive or derogatory. Venues act upon the best interests of their team(s), thus personal photos are acceptable.

Photography Policy by Facility

Individuals and reporters have been photographing sports events for years; however, event venues and sports teams place restrictions on photography to address privacy concerns and player rights. Venues, fields, and stadiums have photography policies located at the event or on their website. There are three types of facilities: stadiums housing professional teams, municipal fields, as well as collegiate and High School stadiums.

Professional Stadiums

The policies vary by organization; however, the National Basketball Association, National Football Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey Association, and International Federation of Association Football have several restrictions on photographing sports events. The leagues prohibit professional photography without pre-approved accommodations. Photographers who have press clearance receive press passes, allowing them to shoot from the sidelines where they will not obstruct the audience's view of the game.

Collegiate and High School Stadiums

Many High Schools require professional photographers to obtain advanced approval prior to the event to obtain press passes or identification. Reporters need to obtain parental consent prior to posting a picture of the minor in the newspaper or on the Internet. Some institutions allow students to sign one authorization for the entire season, giving newspapers the right to publish their information.

Colleges, universities, and other institutions utilize a photography policy similar to those of professional sports leagues. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) defines the base rules for photographing athletes. However, schools add to the policy to ensure the privacy and security of their students.

Municipal Fields

Fields owned by the local governments are public use land; thus photographers have the right to take pictures of the players. If a youth league is playing, authorization should be obtained from the coach, umpire, or league administrator.

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Restrictions on Photographing Sports Events