NBA Cuts Down Credentialed Photographers by 50% in Order to Make Sidelines Safer

NBA Cuts Down Credentialed Photographers by 50% in Order to Make Sidelines Safer

The NBA is known to be one of the most organized and savvy organizations in the world when it comes to media relations and coverage. They attract hundreds of TV stations from around the world, they get online and print coverage in the most remote countries and millions of people follow the league on a daily basis during the season. Getting access to photograph NBA games was always a hard task because of the high demand, even if shooting for a major outlet. But now the NBA announced few changes that will make it even harder for photographers to work and cover the games. 

As a sports photographer, I had a chance to work many times with the league and cover regular season games as well as NBA Finals and the All-Star games. From my own experience, I can truly say this is probably the best sports organization for anything related to the way they handle photography and media in general - from communications ahead of each event, to the hospitality and the order on the court. Even when having large amount of photographers and TV crews on the sideline, it is always very organized and under control.

But after few incidents and injuries of NBA players in past years, the NBA decided to cut down the amount of photographers they allow on the court by 50% - from 40 in 2011 to 20 in the upcoming season. This means half of the basketball photographers who covered the league for years won't be able to come back and do their job- at least not from the floor level. 

The decision came after 4 years of investigation led by officials at the NBA, and it was ruled that the fact many photographers sit right next to the sideline causes too many unnecessary injuries - some worse than others. That's why it was decided to allow only 20 photographers at each game, and was also decided to split them between all four sides (many arenas currently let photographers sit on only two sides). This change will allow the league to have larger safety zone around the basket and will allow players to land freely with no worries of hurting anyone. 

The NBA is expanding the area that must be clear behind the basket and cutting the number of photographers along the baseline in an effort to improve player safety.

The new regulations, calling for an extra foot of open space on both sides of the basket stanchion, were sent to teams Tuesday by league president of operations Rod Thorn and executive vice president of team marketing and business operations Amy Brooks in a memo that was obtained by The Associated Press.

Only 20 camera positions, 10 on each baseline, will remain, down from 24 last season and 40 during the 2010-11 regular season. Each baseline can have six photo spots on one side of the basket and four on the other, and dance teams or other entertainers cannot be stationed along the baseline.

The "escape lanes," the unoccupied area on either side of the stanchion to the closest photographer spot, will increase from 3 to 4 feet.



This is for sure a drastic move that is putting safety over money and coverage. This will hurt many photographers across the country, but the NBA want to avoid horrible injuries such as the one Paul George experienced lately [Warning: HARD TO WATCH], even if it means they will lose coverage by doing so. 

To read more about the decision, read the official statement on

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The article is a tad misleading. They aren't allowing less press in, just reducing the number of on court spots. This makes sense. It's safer for players AND photographers, and keeps them out of the way. NBA games aren't held in high school sized gyms, they are major arenas with ample places for photographers to shoot from besides the actual court. It kind of stinks for the guy who wants to go on court for a couple closer shots, but I don't know many photographers who hang out down there the entire game.

Ryan Mense's picture

I think Noam made it clear on this: "This means half of the basketball photographers who covered the league for years won't be able to come back and do their job- at least not from the floor level."

Thomas Dang's picture

It's still very misleading. "Only 20 camera positions, 10 on each baseline, will remain, down from 24 last season and 40 during the 2010-11 regular season." 20 is not half of 24 (from the prior year).

Of course they can do their jobs. They aren't reducing the number of photographers allowed to cover the games, only the number of people on the court at a time. My local NBA arena has ample space 3 feet back from the sideline (I shoot arena football sometimes and prefer this space to on field). The only difference is a small divider that divides court from not court. It's still floor level, you just can't squat down but you do have a lot more freedom in where you shoot from.

Andrew Richardson's picture

You hang out down there 90% of the game. You might run up to grab something high or get a different perspective, but usually you only do that if the game has a special significance. Otherwise you're just wasting time and potentially missing shots by climbing stairs and navigating the stadium. Not to mention that you can really only get one angle if you're shooting from an elevated spot, unless you decide to be constantly moving but then you run into that whole "wasting time" problem.

I only see maybe 3 or 4 photographers on the court by 4th quarter unless there is something significant about that game. This was even the case in the midst of Dwight Howard's soap opera. The only ones who hang around are usually gathering video for the 11pm news.

Noam Galai's picture

hmmm I can tell you for sure that at MSG, Prudential Center and Barclays Center - the sideline is packed all game long... maybe some cities have different culture, but from all the games I shot - unless people just leave in order to edit and send photos - they stay where they're assigned to sit... on the floor

John Sheehan's picture

Besides floor level, where else does the NBA allow photographer's to shoot the game from? The only shots I remember when I think of a basketball game are floor level. Are there photographers in the press booths?

Noam Galai's picture

I know that in big basketball events (Finals, All-Star etc) the leagues (such as NBA, Euroleauge) place some photographers mid-arena... meaning they have to shoot from above with 400mm+ lenses. Not optimal, and not sure if this is going to happen in regular season from now on... I have no idea.

John Sheehan's picture

Thanks for the reply and information. All the shots I remember for basketball games are the court level ones (a player coming in for a dunk and being shot from below the hoop and the teammates sitting on the bench come to mind), I can't think of one that looks like it was mid-arena shooting down. I might have to do a Google image search and get a better idea the shots from a game.

Ralph Berrett's picture

This goes one part safety and one part control. There are several factors here, safety without a doubt but it also gives them greater control on who gets images and how they are used. Also media has been down sizing. There are less regional publications and mergers like Gannet and Reuters in which they share sports photographer images.

Jeroen de Jong's picture

I don't think the link to the movie is helping. Paul George breaks his leg. But not on a photographer, but he hits the bottom of the stand (don't know the exact word)

rick denham's picture

I completely agree with this move, best thing the NBA ever did, and I don't even like basketball.

This however, and I quote "This is for sure a drastic move that is putting safety over money and coverage" has to be one of the most obvious things ever, and not sure why it is such a big deal. The NBA is in the business of playing basketball, and maintaining the health and safety. They are not putting safety ahead of money, in fact they are doing quite the opposite. If a player gets hurt, the team gets hurt, the league gets hurt. Not only do they lose revenue if it's a good player for people not wanting to come and watch the game, but also now have to fork out money to insurance in order to cover the players lost wages while injured.

As for coverage, and the lack there of. I'm pretty sure it won't be damaged. If you can't get the coverage you need from 20 photographers courtside, then there is a serious issue. In fact as a "sports photographer" you should be ecstatic about this. Less media on the sidelines means more options for your images to sell. Smaller market agencies won't be covering the games, leaving the sales up to the larger more professional agencies. And before you go on about taking jobs and opportunities away from photographers, well in all honesty if you're good won't be an issue.

The ugly truth is that photographers will soon disappear on the side of the courts.
The video cameras used by the NBA are so advanced, shooting slow motion and stuff. They only need to do screen captures of the footage. There you have your photo.

That's how the futur will be like, wheter you like it or not.

Pat Black's picture

i tend to disagree, video cameras can screen capture that is completely true, but the shutter speed required to get a clean screan capture for basketball would be over 500. video cameras can do this but there simply is not enough light in the arenas and it takes time to go through that much footage especially slow motion footage which can be well over 1000fps, and finally if they are a shooter using strobes and hyper sync (like what most colleges have started allowing such as the SEC PAC12 Big South SoCon ) you get a far superior image than what the video cameras are able to produce because you can begin to craft the light.

Well said and as a cinematographer I thank you for clarifying that comment.

They're a fair share of photographers out there who're afraid of the high-end nature of digital cinema cameras (such as the Phantom and its 1000+fps capabilities). Trust me, our game doesn't want to take over yours HAHA.

No seriously, the broadcast video nature of your standard NBA production is a very different beast from the cameras that were referred to. And even if there are ENG/Broadcast bodies with those framerate capabilities, the look still isn't the same as a full framed/Super 35 photo off of your native DSLR :-)

Everyone just enjoy photography, on ALL fronts!