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Isn’t it time we paid our sports photographers fairly?

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

By Rob Sewell,

Let’s take a moment to consider our favourite historic sporting images captured throughout the years; Muhammad Ali standing over a knocked-out Sonny Liston, Cathy Freeman running her Olympic victory lap clutching both the Australian and Aboriginal flag, or Maradona leaping up with his outstretched ‘Hand of God’.

Ever wondered if the creators behind them are reaping the benefits of their pictures constantly being shared? Chances are, they're not. It’s a sad fact but sports photographers and image owners are not getting paid what they deserve.

The current licensing models and image partnerships offer sports organisations very little or no control over their own creative assets.

The global stock images and videos market size was valued at $4.96 billion in 2022, however, photographers are dealing with the continued decline in image licensing value and the mass misuse of their intellectual property (IP) across social media and the wider web.

In fact, it’s estimated that images are stolen an astonishing 2.5 billion times a day – a figure that’s likely to come as a surprise to most. Copying images from a sports site – whether it’s by right-clicking, dragging-and-dropping or screen-shotting them – undoubtedly impacts their value This not only undercuts copyright owners but also opens the door to image security risks and misinformation for everyone.

Content owners are rightfully concerned; not only is there real monetary value attached to their IP, but as a digital asset there are a plethora of ways in which data from these images can offer new audience insights and increase fan engagement across multiple channels – if only they had access to it.

A licensing model fit for purpose

So, what is the solution and alternative to an outdated licensing model? The answer can be found in some unlikely places. Streaming platforms, such as Spotify and YouTube, have revolutionised their respective industries by monetising assets through impressions and ad impressions, as opposed to licensing.

By streaming imagery in a similar way, organisations can not only protect and control the distribution of digital creative assets through an ad-funded model, but also limit image theft.

In fact, sport organisations such as New Zealand Rugby are starting to recognise the value of their assets and are taking action to regain full control.

A win for sports business A new approach to imagery has the potential to benefit the entire sports business ecosystem. From the publisher's perspective, it’s a clean model that offers full use of assets in a more cost-effective way — no licence costs or litigation fees for accidental misuse of content with expired or ambiguous licences.

Advertisers, too, benefit from the high-impact contextual targeting where their brand can be put in the picture, literally. And premium ad placement through full-image overlays is a huge sell for those sports organisations that want to enhance their ad inventory and reap the revenue rewards as a result.

It’s high time we raised the value of sports photography by transforming the way people view and publish sports images online — giving control, credit, and payment back to image owners. And it’s by championing copyright and taking a more ethical approach to sports photography and image sharing that we can create a more sustainable future for this important creative industry, while also maximising revenue.

If we don’t, the business of sport could haemorrhage the creative talent needed to help tell (and retell) the incredible stories of inspiring sporting achievements — and drama — from the greatest sportspeople of our time.

Rob Sewell, CEO, SmartFrame Technologies

Rob Sewell is CEO of SmartFrame Technologies

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