if we are going to be part of the solution, we have to engage the problems - majora carter

By now, many in a specific space have seen my recent blog post, https://www.ginniecolemanphotography.com/blog/lowbar/, discussing a direction that will cause continued issues for creatives and competitive pay.

A brief synopsis...you become the official media partner of an event but do so without pay, give them content that they'll use the following year, and give them a 15% kickback from your sales of media packages to the athletes. I stand by my statement that this method of operation sets a dangerous precedence not only for creatives but also for event organizers. We all know that the continued devaluation of creatives is occurring, and it will not stop here.

The solution to this is quite simple. One of those factors has to change. You either get paid for the contract as a partner, OR you charge a commercial use fee for each image they want to use for marketing for the next year, OR you don't give a percentage back. Those parameters are reasonable. Every business owner knows what they want their ROI to be. As an event, your ROI is media deliverables for the next year, OR it's a percentage of the media partner's sales. It's not both. See? Simple.

Now, let's talk about the bigger picture regarding media in general. This discussion is based on experiences I've had. However, it does change year to year because, to find a consistent process, you must identify what works and what doesn't and then adjust, especially as a sport trying to elevate itself in the professional sports space. Standards for outside media representation will continue to evolve until they align with standard practices you see in the professional space.

I know this will not resonate with some people, but it's time to reconsider what is best for the sport rather than for your Instagram algorithm.

I offer this insight as a Media Director, freelance contractor, and news wire contractor so that I can talk about various components based on my professional experience.

What I know of the current process:

Media Team - This is the media team you've hired to represent your brand, athletes, and community. Traditionally, this is built into your cost of doing business and is based on previous years' income (pricing for registrations, vendors, sponsors, etc.) to ensure you earmark a specific amount to cover that line item. (Travel, hotel, day rate, meals).

Partner/Sponsor Media - There are a few factors that I would assume contribute to the quantity of media credentials sponsors can attain. Still, I'm not privy to that component, so here are some standards used in other spaces:

  • Level of sponsorship/partnership.
  • Rights of use (some companies get a credential despite having no contracted athletes competing and therefore can't use any of their content for marketing purposes).

General Media - Credentials given for authorized outlets (AP, Getty, others that are considered news reporting athletics in this specific space)

Vendor/Athlete Media - This has changed, as it should, annually based on, again, I assume, previous years after action review. In the past, there have been athlete/team allowances for creators to shoot content "specifically" for them. However, this (except for specific training camps that only shoot content for their athletes) is rarely the case, and creators use their given credentials to photograph a significant amount of content they didn't apply to. It's also important to note that I don't believe vendor-affiliated shooters were allowed any commercial use of the images, which is how it should be.

Here are the general problems with the system as a whole:

  • First, NO background checks. It's right to assume official press (AP, Getty, Local news) have all gone through background checks to ensure there are no issues.) I'm unsure if news-related organizations in this space do it, but they should. Everyone near athletes, especially teen athletes, should be required to submit a background check at their expense.
  • Access isn't tier-based. Every major sporting event has levels of access based on the scope of work/partnership, etc. The working event staff have priority, followed by your general news outlets, students/interns, partners, and any additional credentials granted.
  • Usage. While I believe there is a right-to-use rider for those outside the media partner and wire agencies, I'm not sure it's even been enforced. This is particularly an issue for pass photographers granted access for a "specific individual or team." Still, they use that credential to shoot content, which, in theory, isn't granted under the full rights of use waiver athletes sign. I say this because I'm unsure of the legal terms when an athlete signs a waiver for media rights. Usually, most cover exclusive use, which means the company and the affiliated wires services, but is not granted to random media under those parameters.
  • Profit Liability. I said in my post that you shouldn't pay to work, which is true if you are the media partner, but I'll never understand why they don't charge those non-partner/sponsor media credentials a commercial use fee. Those creators/companies profit off of an event that they didn't pay to put on and don't have to pay to attend. In return, the individuals/teams get content they otherwise wouldn't be getting and can use it in the next year. If you're serious about your marketing content, you pay someone to create content for you. Access to content you would otherwise pay for and a much higher rate in your facility for a simple commercial use rate are essential considerations.
  • Value of Publicity. I am unsure how you equate outside creators' value and ability to contribute, often beautifully created media, in the space. I would love to see that statistic and see if the scope of reach equalizes a company's ability to have content that aligns with its branding, vision, and direction.
  • Space concerns. The issue repeatedly is the space in which you can get content. There is a common problem when you allow many creators to fight for a spot to shoot. Limiting the amount of credentialed media fixes that, but so do specific restrictions. This is commonplace in many professional spaces, so I'll never understand why some complain about what kind of access you can get. Hierarchy is vital to the success of media cooperation in the professional sports field of play, and this space shouldn't be any different.

How to fix it:

  • Surcharge pass (individual, team, camp) creators. Balk all you want, but you're going to pay a creator, if they value themselves, at least $400 for an hour or two of coverage at your facility, so why not pay a $300 fee to events to have a commercial use waiver that allows you to hire creators who can get content you can use all year long.
  • Another option is a fee-based structure that allows you, as the event, to hire the suitable media fit for your brand that then distributes content to athletes that opt to do so. Reach out if you want a spreadsheet on this. It's workable and can be highly successful if that is the direction you want to take.
  • Access. The event staff has priority. Media outlets have an identified space they can shoot from on a different level. Individual/Team access is limited to access similar to media outlets ONLY when their contracted athletes are competing. In the professional space, VERY few have their own media credential creators on the actual field of play, and if they do, it's due to a significant commercial use waiver in place. (i.e., they paid a mint to access content otherwise owned by the event company).
  • Partners/Sponsors: If they don't have an athlete on the field of play, giving a credential is pointless and a way some creators will work around the nonindividual/team shoot rules that had been in place in the past. It happened last year, and it will happen again. Dishonest people will work the system because there are no consequences. They can't use content anyway, so why is a credential given in the first place?

A few final parting thoughts:

  • If you are outside media (not an official media partner, sponsor, or wire service), you are lucky to be there. As I said earlier, major professional sporting spaces rarely grant access because you shoot for a specific athlete.
  • Respect the rules, whatever they may be. They realign based (I assume) on previous years' experiences and input so it MAY change. They should change until they get a system of easier processes to implement and follow through with. Many often forget the critical external factors when granting, overseeing, and following through with a significant amount of external media like this particular space.
  • Most importantly, since there are significant changes in this particular space, it's vital to note that the outside media coverage is still in its infancy. They must continue to adapt and find processes that work best for their leadership teams, the organization and flow of the event, and the spectator experience. Their accountability, as it should be, isn't to creators. Many of you will not like hearing that, but it's true.

Engage the problems to find the solution, don't be the problem.

Much love,


Image courtesy of Sam Lozada