5 Sports Leagues Doing Captioning Right
Updated: February 8, 2018
In sports, you have to see it to believe it.
Go on any website and you will find a plethora of video content highlighting the most notable or disastrous plays.
So because video is so central to how people access sports, it’s important that sports organizations apply proper accessibility features to ensure that everyone can have equal access.
Sports + Captioning
The world of sports captioning is vastly different from regular captioning.
For starters, since sports are broadcasted on television, they require live captions.
But live sports captioning is a whole other ball game and, like athletes, sports captioners must train hard before every game.
Now, just as sports are viewed live by millions, they’re also viewed after the fact by a million more who may have missed the game or simply want to relive the moment.
Luckily, the advent of the internet has helped amass video libraries of all the greatest hits in sports. Ensuring that those videos are accessible online is as important as ensuring they are accessible live on television.
The legal verdict on captioning as told by legal referees
Under the ADA, sports arenas are considered places of public accommodations. For this reason, the ADA has laid out comprehensive guidelines (such as wheelchair ramps, assistive listening systems, and the height-friendly placing of concession goods) for creating accessible sports arena that ensure no patrons are inconvenienced during a game.
Similiarly, sports broadcaster are required to ensure no sports fans are inconvenienced while watching the game at home. Under the FCC and CVAA, sports broadcasters are required to live caption games.
But what happens when sports go digital?
With the advent of the internet, website accessibility is becoming increasingly important for consumer-facing organizations, and people are speaking up against websites that fail to provide equal access. Last year alone there were around 240 lawsuits regarding website accessibility problems.
While not all courts have agreed that websites are also a place of public accommodation, in general, most courts tend to side with the plaintiff under Title III of the ADA.
And sports organizations have not been immune to these complaints. Eminent organizations (like the NBA) have had suits brought forth citing violations of the ADA for discriminating against certain disabilities.
The bottom line is that if you aren’t making your website (and its content) accessible, you are excluding a significant portion of the world population. Ultimately, this can lead to extremely costly lawsuits (like Target’s $10 million class action lawsuit with the National Federation of the Blind), and a severe blow to an organizations reputation.
5 Sports Leagues Doing Captioning Right
While the following sports leagues have taken admirable steps towards greater accessibility online, many around the world still need to recognize the importance of accessibility.
1. Major League Baseball
Did you know the first pro baseball game was aired on television on August 26, 1939? The game was a doubleheader between Brooklyn and Cincinnati.
Back in 2010, Major League Baseball and the American Council of the Blind came into an agreementaddressing the accessibility of the MLB’s online and mobile content, including all 30 MLB team’s websites as well. Using structured negotiations, the MLB knocked it out of the ballpark by reforming all their online content to comply with WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA.
Now, while the MLB is using “reasonable efforts to explore and test solutions” to satisfy WCAG 2.0 Success Criteria 1.2 for captions, transcripts, and audio description, they are still not required to caption their content.
Despite this temporary exclusion in the agreement, the MLB has done an excellent job at captioning the videos on their MLB.TV Media Player. In addition to captioning content on their homepage, all 30 MLB team websites include captioned videos as well.
2. National Basketball Association
Did you know from 1891-1950s early basketball games used soccer balls?
In 2015, the National Basketball Association was sued for having an inaccessible website for the blind and visually impaired. The suit was filed as discrimination under the ADA for failing to create a website that all individuals could equally enjoy.
With all eyes on this legendary basketball league, it’s no surprise that they’ve made a significant stride to improve the accessibility of their website and of all 30 NBA team’s website.
Notably, a big portion of this accessibility push has included captioning.
From their FAQ page, the NBA notes that they are working with Turner Broadcasting System Inc. to expand CC offerings “including full compliance with all relevant FCC implementation timelines.”
3. Premier League
Did you know the word soccer was created in Britain as a nickname for Association Football, but the United States then adapted it to differentiate from American Football.
While all 20 clubs are making progress to improve the accessibility of their stadiums, in the digital realm, the Premier League is truly an emblem for digital accessibility.
All 20 clubs have a dedicated accessibility page, ensuring that they meet current accessibility legislation and standards set by the Equality Act of 2010.
In general, the club websites are modeled to meet WCAG level AA requirements.
As the main hub for fan content, the Premier League website includes both closed captioning and (in most cases) audio description for each video.
4. National Hockey League
Did you know the Stanley Cup has 20 engraving errors? For example, Boston is spelled as “Bqstqn” and the Toronto Maple Leafs is spelled as “Leaes.”
Founded in 1917, the NHL is compromised of 31 teams (24 in the US and 7 in Canada).
One of the NHL’s core missions is to ensure that “Hockey is for Everyone.” As part of an inclusivity campaign, they have created an ambassador program to ensure that no individual regardless of “race, colour, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status,” is denied access to hockey.
And when it comes to accessibility, they truly try to eliminate the barriers that can inhibit certain individuals from enjoying an equal experience to hockey.
Apart from implementing accessibility features like keyboard shortcuts and screen magnification on the official NHL website, they also provide closed captioning on their NHL.TV media player for live and archived games.
Most teams have also implemented their own website accessibility policies that are modeled after WCAG Level AA.
Notably, in 2015, the Minnesota Wild NHL team announced they would be providing closed captioning for home games at their arena.
5. National Football League
Did you know that while football games last 3 hours, the average time the ball is in play is only 11 minutes?
As one of the most popular sports in the United States, it’s no surprise that the NFL is constantly innovating to become more accessible to its diverse fan base.
In 2016, the NFL and several teams within it started working to achieve a fully accessible website, following the WCAG 2.0 level AA accessibility standards.
The participating teams had the National Center for Accessible Media perform an audit of their websites and provide recommendations to improve them, as well as formulate individual website accessibility policies.
Since 2015, the NFL has slowly been implementing portions of WCAG 2.0 into their website, captioning included.
Their proactive efforts are admirable as they have recognized the value of inclusivity.
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