TV ratings for NFL games are down 11 percent and now the NFL is only allowing teams to post video or GIFs the league has first put in an internal server for use by all teams. Maybe it’s a shot at “cord cutters” dropping cable TV to watch pirated game broadcasts for free online.

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An NFL decision banning teams from posting in-game video and GIFs to social media accounts has caught the sports business world off-guard.

Some sports industry observers question why the league was apparently eschewing the prevailing wisdom that greater video content on social media leads to more fans watching games. Others wonder whether the new measure, which went into effect on Wednesday, was to combat plunging national television ratings.

After the league initially refrained from commenting, it’s top social media official said Wednesday the move was about protecting online value by controlling the type of video put out by teams. The league has denied that a TV ratings drop of 11 percent over last season is behind the revamped policy, in which fines of $25,000 to $100,000 will be levied against teams independently posting in-game video or GIF content on their social media feeds.

They can now only post video the league has first dropped into an internal server for use by all teams.

At least one specialist in the growing field of online sports piracy says if TV ratings are really behind the move, the NFL’s revamped policy won’t help.

“Honestly, if that’s why they did it, I respectfully think it’s a misguided attempt because they don’t understand the space,’’ said Wayne Lonstein, CEO of New York-based VFT Solutions, a piracy prevention and monetization firm. “That doesn’t change the space. That does nothing to affect consumption. It’s another attack on distribution and that’s not the issue. The issue is consumption.”

Lonstein doubts fans are forgoing NFL broadcasts in favor of a few video highlights put out by teams. The real problem, he says, is “cord cutters” dropping cable TV because they can now watch pirated game broadcasts for free online.

His company, founded in 2010, samples about 400 live-streamed feeds of NFL games weekly on Periscope Live, Facebook Live and YouTube Live. He says those feeds draw 350,000 to 400,000 online viewers weekly who watch pirated NFL games without a cable package or contributing to any ratings.

And those are only a sampling.

Lonstein estimates more than 1,000 such feeds offer pirated weekly NFL broadcasts on just the three platforms his company monitors.

“What we’ve seen in the first five weeks of the season is a significant shift and growth to seven figures viewership of NFL games on Periscope, Facebook and YouTube Live,” he said.

Lonstein’s company offers software capabilities that can jam such pirate feeds and contact those running them. But he says new accounts often mushroom as quickly as others close.

The NFL hadn’t initially commented on why it made the policy changes.

But on Wednesday, the league’s social media chief, Tom Brady (not the Patriots quarterback), told Yahoo Sports the change was about retaining value. The NFL has signed a number of deals with social media platforms and wants to better control content.

“If we allowed the clubs, and ourselves, to put every single bit out there, there could end up being a lot of noise,” he said.

That may not satisfy those who feel the change happening in-season makes this more about protecting TV partners, especially with teams now banned altogether from using Periscope or Facebook Live to stream live clips from games.

The league had attributed TV ratings declines to the U.S. Presidential election, while others blame poor matchups, a lack of marquee players and even national anthem civil rights protests. Whatever the cause, other sports leagues continue to view the use of in-game video by teams as beneficial to their TV product.

Major League Soccer executives are thrilled with how in-game video, GIFs, streaming and other efforts on social media have drawn young viewers.

“Both the league and the clubs actively use social media to engage with the fan base,’’ said MLS senior vice president (digital) Chris Schlosser. “That includes posting in-game highlights and GIFs.’’

Schlosser said MLS isn’t concerned that widespread highlight usage will discourage viewers from watching game broadcasts. He said the league worked closely with broadcast partners.

ESPN, Fox and Univision discussed what content they would all use on various league and network online platforms to reach fans among the youngest and most tech savvy in sports.

“It was really important that we were all taking advantage of every social platform available to us to reach and grow the fan base,’’ he said.

A National Hockey League spokesman also says no NFL-style changes are planned.

“The clubs play an important part in the ecosystem of marketing our game,” the spokesman wrote in an email. “And we have no plans to eliminate the use of game footage on club social media accounts.”

Bob Bowman, CEO of MLB Advanced Media, agreed his sport also views the use of video clips and selective live streaming as a way to draw more television viewers.

“We do a lot of in-game stuff,’’ he said. “Not just video, but a lot of other stuff to try and remind people that there’s a game going on.”

That includes embedding video highlights so that others can share them.

Bowman added his sport’s approach isn’t necessarily the “right” one for all leagues, as MLB games occur nightly while the NFL has much more riding on one weekly contest per team. And Bowman agrees there’s such a thing as showing too many video highlights.

“We don’t put out 60 highlights per game,” he said. “We don’t want the highlights to substitute for watching a live game.”

Bowman said it’s about putting out select, important highlights that whet a viewer’s interest. That way, there’s little worry fans will choose to view just those clips instead of watching an entire game broadcast when the option is there.

And for now, at least with recorded video, the NFL says it isn’t worried about showing such clips either — as long as it gets to choose them.