NASCAR’s Yanked YouTube Video Sparks Some Questions for PR Execs

Image: USA Today

Following a frightening crash  during NASCAR's Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona on Feb. 23, NASAR sparked a controversy when it decided to pull fan video of crash debris flying into the grandstands.

NASCAR's move puts the spotlight on the ever-growing battle between copyrights and fans sharing their experiences on social media. 

As crash debris flew into the stands, injuring at least 28 people, one fan who was standing close to where a tire crash-landed, posted a (mildly shocking) clip to YouTube, according to Forbes.

Shortly after its posting, however, the video was taken down and viewers were greeted with: “This video contains content from NASCAR, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.”

Many questioned how NASCAR could possibly claim ownership over a fan's video of the race. According to The Atlantic, a provision in NASCAR's legal fine print on any ticket says the racing association owns the rights to any video, sounds or data related to a race.

Steve Phelps, senior VP-CMO of NASCAR, defended the removal of the video but didn't address the copyright issue. "The fan video of the wreck on the final lap of today’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race was blocked on YouTube out of respect for those injured in today’s accident," Phelps was quoted in The Washington Post. "Information on the status of those fans was unclear and the decision was made to err on the side of caution with this very serious incident."  

Later, a YouTube spokesperson said in a statement that the video was restored. “Our partners and users do not have the right to take down videos from YouTube unless they contain content which is copyright infringing, which is why we have reinstated the videos.”

It seems NASCAR is split between two worlds. It seeks to claim copyright on on any video, sounds or data related to its races, while simultaneously seeking to craft engaging social-media strategies and improving the racetrack experience for fans.  In a digital age, NASCAR can't have it both ways.

Sports organizations overall need to shore up their YouTube strategy in terms of copyright and fan engagement, an effort in which PR execs can play a critical role. Major League Baseball bottles up its own online video and even removes fans' video content on YouTube, which the sports media calls "archaic." The NBA, however, openly shares highlights packages on YouTube with its biggest stars, many of which, to no one's surprise, gather pageviews in the millions.  

One thing is certain—fans filming video at events won't stop, and brands that try to suppress any damaging videos will likely incur some blowback.