Scott Longley – Dispelling the myths of sports data rights…

Scott Longley – Clear & Concise Media

Sports leagues and governing bodies have emphasised the distribution of their data rights through ‘official partnerships’, sanctioned by chosen tech partners. Adjusting to digital disruptions across all media and entertainment verticals, the debate on sports data rights should not be handled as a black-or-white matter…

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Arguments over sports data – who owns it, who distributes it, who uses it – have become more heated in the past couple of years, maybe not coincidentally since expanded regulated sports betting became a reality in the US.

These questions on ownership and rights go to the heart of some of the disputes that are affecting the data supply arena in both Europe and the US right now.

For the sports, the simple yet misleading answer to the questions of who owns the data is that they do. Simple, because it seems to make logical sense – they are the sport, whether that is a league or a governing body, and therefore what is produced is their’s to keep.

Yet, such a simple premise is misleading, because in law there is no copyright over the actual fact of what has happened in the field of play. A team or player scoring a goal or points against another team does not constitute a copyrightable piece of information.

The essential building blocks of today’s data rights and distribution landscape have long been put in place in Europe and yet still arguments rage over essentially settled legal points such as the influence of the EU’s ‘Database Right‘.

It is why sports have consistently lost out over claims that fixture lists have any inherent copyright attached and it is why there are numerous pieces of case law which have together established this basic fact.

It is only when an element of extra work or investment in resources is added to the basic data that database rights come in to play. This is, in essence, why the Database Right exists. It protects those who put the effort into collecting and distributing data, giving them legal protection over the investment that they make and what they organise and relay. This right is not exclusive to sports and it applies to anyone putting in that effort.

Now, to start adding the layers of complexity, we need to see official data deals against this legal context. While having an official stamp regarding data can provide a competitive edge, it is not an absolute necessity. This, of course, has become a contentious area on both sides of the Atlantic where sports are looking at different ways and means to force bookmakers to use the official product, either through legislation or through restriction of alternative data sources.

Rights at Issue

Which brings us around to where the real sparks are flying currently in Europe around exclusive data deals. Any sport is wholly within its rights to ask for an exclusive official data deal, but that exclusivity doesn’t mean they have the right to foreclose all other arrangements for the collection and distribution of data related to that sport.

While they may wish to enforce property rights to refuse entry to the stadia – itself a point of conflict that may or may not pass muster in the courts –they can’t stop data being collected legitimately by any other means.

Arguably, also, such attempts are detrimental to their own economic interests. In attempting to squeeze more out of data deals by creating an exclusive premium product, a sport will be cutting off potential revenues from other suppliers and their downstream customers who may wish to have an official product but for whom the singular premium feed does not make commercial or economic sense.

To be clear here claims that other suppliers are somehow ‘stealing -or-pirating’ data when supplying unofficial or what might more properly be termed open-source data is legally misleading. These other suppliers are often more than willing to pay for official access or accreditation but they are being denied the opportunity by sports insisting on one exclusive arrangement and a single ‘source of truth’. In pursuing such deals, sport is often cutting off its nose to spite its face, leaving money on the table that could otherwise be benefiting its constituents.

This all matters because ultimately such measures also only act to hold back on innovation in data supply to the bookmakers with the ultimate loser being the consumer. Multiple licensee official deals also act as an insurance in terms of integrity, where multiple data sources mean avoiding the risks associated with a single point of failure or potential corruptibility.

The arguments currently raging over official and exclusive data are more than just old news; they are harmful to the relationship between betting and sport and ultimately lead to damaging allegations of impropriety where none exists.

For the good of all concerned as well as public perception, it is maybe time for the operators, the sports and their suppliers to agree a system of distribution which balances their respective interests and is designed to allow each participant to rise above the squabbles and set the framework for the future relationship between the two sectors.

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