live data

The data crunch: Battle lines being drawn over live sports data

The roster of major sports properties entering into official data partnerships to commercialise their live data has attracted plenty of attention in recent months, not least because of the arrival of the major US sports leagues into this arena writes David Lampitt, MD of Sports Partnerships at Sportradar.

These data deals have been growing in number, value and geographic reach, a process that has mirrored the rapid growth of Sportradar’s own business supplying this data to media companies and sports betting operators around the world in real-time. As the market for live betting data has expanded and matured, we’ve seen significant divergence in the approaches being adopted by both the data supply companies and the sports rights holders to the management of their data partnerships.

As a pioneer and market leader in this space, Sportradar takes its responsibilities seriously in trying to ensure that the market develops in a way that is healthy, safe and sustainable for all concerned. So, in sharing our views on the live data market for betting, we hope to debunk a few common myths and help further the understanding of this ecosystem that is often misunderstood.

Official vs open-source 

Let’s start by emphasising that Sportradar is a major supporter of official data deals and invests more into official data partnerships than anyone else, providing significant revenues back into sports organisations both large and small.

We recognise there are numerous ways of structuring data deals and we respect the fact that different rights holders adopt different approaches. We aim to help rights holders deliver the best commercial value for their data in the long-term, firstly by obsessing about quality and secondly by adopting deal structures that align with the following four principles:

  1. maximising reach and engagement for the sport;
  2. providing sustainable and repeatable revenue streams;
  3. incorporating robust integrity measures that can be applied as widely as possible;
  4. promoting a healthy, vibrant and competitive market where data suppliers compete strongly, price fairly and innovate.

The key question then is the ‘how’ and that is where we’ve seen a number of issues arising recently. This is at least partly caused by the legal position in relation to sports data because sports data does not have the same legal status as other media content and rights. In simple terms, it is not directly ‘own-able’ or protectable as a product of intellectual property (myth #1 busted).

The issue, therefore, ultimately distils down to whether there should be one single source of data on a sporting event (often referred to as ‘official’ data) or whether multiple suppliers should be allowed to collect, store and use data from that event in parallel (referred to as ‘open source’ data).

It is natural that certain sports lean towards the former option, instinctively feeling that being the ‘single source of truth’ on their competitions is both philosophically and commercially attractive. The difficulty is that intellectual property, database and competition law generally align with the latter, meaning that open-source data is also perfectly legitimate, even if it may not be as fast, reliable or detailed as the official version.

This often leaves data supply companies in an uncomfortable middle ground between their sports partners on one side and the legal and commercial realities of their competitors and their sportsbook customers on the other.   

On a superficial view it may seem that the interests of these organisations will always be divergent. The sports are of course keen to maximise revenues and exercise a level of control over the live data on that sport; in the middle, data supply companies are competing for access to that live data to provide services to their customers in a very competitive market; and on the downstream side, bookmaker customers naturally want product choice, value for money, as well as multiple sources of data for failover reasons.

Whilst those interests may seem hard to reconcile, it is our clear view that they can be mutually compatible (myth #2 busted) as long as official data arrangements are structured in a way that does not seek to exclude healthy competition in favour of information monopolies. 

The importance of competition for integrity and innovation

So, what does this mean in practice? It means that it’s entirely appropriate for rights holders to award an official betting data licence to a preferred data supplier (if they wish to do so, of course) provided that other data suppliers are able to obtain a suitable alternative supply (whether official or open-source) that allows for meaningful competition at this layer of the market.  

There are numerous different ways of achieving this and we see rights holders creating new arrangements for their data deals on a regular basis. The US leagues have played a part here, bringing the commercial rights associated with sponsoring, as well as extended use of their marks and logos into the scope of benefits to be derived from using their official data.

In Europe, the Bundesliga in Germany as well as the European Leagues have led the way on a non-exclusive data set-up, such that there are now more than 30 European football leagues and competitions where data deals have been structured based on open-market access principles, providing strong commercial returns alongside a competitive supply market. 

We don’t advocate for one particular model, as we respect the autonomy of sports to determine what is right for them. The common (and key) factor here is that the models should generally reflect the fact that competition in the market is a fundamental part of a healthy ecosystem. And with good reason – as the benefits and long-term advantages for sports are clear-cut, including those four aforementioned principles:

  • Integrity – multiplicity of supply enhances integrity in at least two ways (i) having multiple data feeds minimises single point of failure risks; and perhaps even more importantly, (ii) it ensures that the maximum number of data suppliers and their bookmaker customers can be brought into contractual integrity commitments via a structured relationship with the sport (myth #3 busted). We believe that all data supply companies providing data on a sports property should have the opportunity to be accredited by the rights holder (even if they are not the ‘official’ supplier) and thereby be subject to suitability requirements and integrity commitments.
  • Innovation – healthy competition is good for innovation and the sports data business is no different. We welcome the challenge of competing with our rivals as it drives us to find new ways to serve our customers, excite fans, and create value.
  • Sustainable and repeatable revenues – driving revenue streams from a wider base of suppliers (and their customers) should deliver a broader, more diversified and therefore more secure income stream for sports in the short, medium and long term.
  • Maximising reach and engagement – allowing multiple suppliers to distribute content to the widest range of customers and ultimate end-users, will broaden the base of potential fans;

The difficulties arise in the narrow and rare circumstances where all alternative sources and all competition in the market for data are excluded in order to create an information monopoly.

The importance of competition in UK football 

When it comes to our own sports partnerships, such as our international data deals with the US leagues, we accept that we must go toe-to-toe with our rivals who have ready access to, and therefore supply, open-source data in competition with our officially licensed product. It’s up to us to demonstrate the difference in quality and value of the official feeds to the market. 

But in doing so we don’t stigmatise open-source data – other data suppliers have sought to do so, but at best they’re being misleading, at worst hypocritical. Open-source data is a legitimate part of the data market and forms part of the business operations of all major data supply companies (myth #4 busted) – it’s just that some companies are more open and honest about this than others. We’d always rather be up-front and explain these realities even if it may open us up to criticism.

This is the key difference between Sportradar’s data partnerships and the Betgenius deal with Football DataCo (“FDC”) for the UK football leagues. There is no suitable alternative data supply available, so rather than promoting a healthy market for competing suppliers, with a focus on innovation and integrity, FDC and Betgenius are seeking to block competition and foreclose the market to anything other than their single official supply. 

Thankfully this approach continues to be the exception rather than the rule. Sportradar will continue to support the development of a vibrant and valuable ecosystem for live sports data characterised by integrity, innovation and healthy competition. We know that others, including other companies in our layer of the market, take a different view, promoting exclusivity as a means to exclude competitors or gain market share.

Given our strong position in the global market, particularly in the US, we might have been expected to follow suit. But in the long term we don’t see the benefits of such an approach for our partners, the sports organisations, nor our customers, the betting operators, nor indeed for the data supply market.  

So, let’s dispense with the use of emotive terms like piracy, stealing and theft when talking about these issues – they are unhelpful, not to mention wholly inaccurate – and instead, focus on delivering a constructive and balanced approach to the challenges of a growing and valuable market.

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