A South Dakota legislative committee unanimously endorsed a limit to school districts signing exclusive broadcast agreements for high school activities Thursday.
The passage, which sends Senate Bill 119 to the full Senate, came despite objections from the state’s largest school districts, including the Sioux Falls School District.
Sen. Mark Johnston, R-Sioux Falls, introduced SB 119 in response to scattered incidents of school districts giving one media outlet exclusive rights to broadcast high school sports or other activities.
“I think we should be encouraging multiple contracts, multiple opportunities for media outlets to broadcast the (schools’) great activities,” Johnston told the Senate Commerce Committee.
But school district representatives said the bill was dangerous. Dick Tieszen, a lobbyist for the Sioux Falls School District, said schools’ rights of property and publicity were threatened by the bill. He cited a Supreme Court case giving people the right to control who broadcasts their performances, and a recent federal court ruling in Wisconsin upholding the right of schools to enter into exclusive broadcast agreements.
“There is a significant difference between the reporting or covering of an event, and the broadcasting or publishing of an entire act,” Tieszen said.
He noted that even when a school district has an exclusive contract with a media outlet to broadcast their events, other, competing media outlets can still report on those events — just not broadcast them in their entirety.
Argus Leader Media is among the media organizations who have clashed with school districts over livestreaming sporting events online. It pays a sponsorship fee to the Sioux Falls School District that allows student-produced live game coverage to be displayed on the newspaper’s website. The agreement does not allow the Argus Leader to provide its own livestreamed coverage of events.
Dianna Miller, a lobbyist for most of the large school districts in the state, said selling exclusive broadcast rights is a way for school districts to raise money without raising taxes.
But the schools’ arguments didn’t persuade members of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Several said the key for them was that the bill only applied to public, taxpayer-supported schools.
Sen. Tim Begalka, R-Clear Lake, said public schools should be open for all media outlets to cover.
Sen. Angie Buhl, D-Sioux Falls, said she was sympathetic to the school district arguments, but didn’t think they applied.
“I understand that school districts are in a tough spot and they’re trying to raise revenue in any way they can,” Buhl said.
But not being able to enter into exclusive contracts, Buhl said, doesn’t prevent them from raising money by selling non-exclusive rights.
“It’s a different animal when you’re doing it through exclusive contracts,” she said.