Scott Longley – Confusion reigns over FDC’s second betting rights deal

Scott Longley – Clear & Concise Media

Scott Longley breaks down Football DataCo’s decision to split its data rights distribution package for English and Scottish football between two separate vendors for betting services. Recognised as betting’s most valuable data rights, appeasing distributor dynamics would always be a complex matter…

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It is some feat to conclude two exclusive global deals for what would appear to be the same product but such appears to be the achievement of the vendors of English and Scottish league data Football DataCo (FDC).

To recap, in May last year, ahead the start of this current – and now longest – football season, FDC concluded a new exclusive data deal with Genius Sports for live data to the global betting sector.

To quote the press release at the time: “Commencing at the start of the 2019/20 season, this multi-year partnership will create the sports-betting sector’s fastest and most accurate and reliable data feed for in-play betting products and live betting innovations, in order to drive long-term value for sports-betting operators around the world.”

Fast forward to last week and FDC announces another exclusive deal, this time with Stats Perform, home of Opta, the leading sports data supplier and erstwhile provider of English and Scottish league football data to betting operators. This, the press release tells us, is for the right to “collect and distribute detailed event data… to the world’s media, fantasy, broadcast and professional teams.”

Quite a different exclusive deal then? Well, to quote a favourite line from Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, up to a point Lord Copper.

Because after detailing the types of innovative data collection involved in the deal – including a new FDC Labs collaboration between FDC and another data supplier, Second Spectrum – the release goes on to say this deal will see Stats Perform offer official player market data to licensed sportsbooks and daily fantasy operators to “power pre-game and in-play betting on player statistics like shots, passes and tackles, which have quickly established a large following amongst bettors.”

Second bite of the cherry

All of which means there are now two sources of official betting data available on the rights held by FDC. One is available via Genius Sports and another comes courtesy of Stats Perform/Opta. The latter has confirmed that its scouting will come off-tube. Each will be fed into different systems and distributed separately.

This second data collection and distribution deal was, sources suggest, inevitable after the Genius Sports deal was announced. At that point, operators feared they would be shut out of the Opta content stream. However, that never happened because the operators and providers were able to continue accessing the Opta data even as Genius Sports took over the “exclusive” collection and distribution of the headline data for betting.

That arrangement will now continue, although sources also suggest there is some confusion about what exactly they will be allowed to receive from Stats Perform. As one put it, “even the experts get mixed up.

FDC General Manager Adrian Ford explained the situation thus: “The two data feeds are different yet complimentary. The Genius ‘fast’ feed predominantly powers the global in-play sports betting markets whilst the Opta feed has value in creating highly specialised player market bet types. Although these markets are distinct, they both benefit from the safeguards offered through official data by providing a secure verifiable point of origin.”

During an International Masters of Gaming Law (IMGL) webinar that took place on 11 June, Ford stated that FDC had indeed separated its rights into two – media and betting. “We have media rights and we have betting rights,” he stated. “What is common to both sides is that you need one official version so there can be no doubt about what happened.”

Except, as we have established, there are actually two sources of betting data and one media source. That, by any calculation, is three sources of data right there.

During the IMGL webinar, Ford repeated the claims he has made before that there should be “one official source of the facts and the truth that embodies and helps story-telling because sport fundamentally needs the right answers”. “So with data you have to have one source of truth,” he added. “You can’t have different views about who scored a goal who took the corner or who committed the foul otherwise you will get yourselves into all sorts of trouble.”

How this logic is applied across three official data feeds will be interesting to see.

Inescapable conclusions

Why is this issue important? Perhaps unsurprisingly it all seems to boil down to control and money. For the operators, we must assume that the price of FDC data has risen given the apparent increase in the cost of the rights paid by Genius Sports.

These arguments will likely be at the centre of the case being brought before the UK Competition Appeal Tribunal by Sportradar which argues that the FDC’s exclusive deal with Genius Sports is anti-competitive. What the courts will make of there now being two exclusive deals for betting data will be instructive.

But what isn’t clear from the comments from FDC is where they stand on the issue of competition. While the arguments over official data may not matter too much to the major operators other than as a question of costs, it becomes a much more nuanced argument not that much further down the chain.

During the IMGL webinar Ford said the following: “The problem we are all going to have is the offshore market – the pariahs out there – and our job must be to make their lives as difficult as possible so that they have inferior products and can’t compete with the big operators, particularly as in-running grows,” he said.

Ford has clarified that he meant to say “licensed” in this context but the elision between “big” and “licensed” is telling. The tier of operators that will be most harmed by increasing data costs is unlikely to be the ‘big’ operators. It is rather the smaller, licensed challenger brands, those that foster competition and innovation but who are not being served by FDC’s single-source product. Much of these arguments are likely to play out in court soon. How it decides the issue will determine what kind of data market we will have in future.

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