Data is now ‘the most valuable asset on earth’, according to the Netflix documentary, The Great Hack. They were talking primarily about consumer data, but sports data of sport – particularly real time data – is also rapidly appreciating in value.
As a result, the question as to who owns or controls it is becoming a vital issue in the sports economy.
Vast quantities of information from a huge number of sports matches, events, leagues and competitions are becoming available on an almost real time basis to media and data businesses, as more and more leagues and governing bodies start to realise the value of live data, not just to their fans but especially to the betting markets.
Bookmakers are trading in information. If they are using information which is even a second behind their competitors, they have a problem. If it’s a second behind their customers, the punters, they have a BIG problem.
In simple terms, can the bookies obtain and process information from live events faster than a spectator could tweet it? And if they can’t provide accurate data from a range of sports, 24/7, how can they stay competitive and retain their hard fought-for customers, who are increasingly betting on minority sports alongside, or even instead of, the traditional big betting sports like horseracing and football?
As one leading expert has put it, in ‘in-play’ betting in particular, real time data has become ‘the difference between a product having value and no value at all’. As the global online betting market is massive and growing and ‘in-play’ betting represents a significant portion of the total, the critical value of live data is very clear.
The US Supreme Court’s decision last year to permit US States to allow regulated sports betting at state level has propelled the growth expectations of an already burgeoning market still higher, and sparked a new gold rush amongst betting businesses and the big American sports bodies. More than 11 US States now allow sports betting and the first $10 Billion has been legally bet. Live broadcasting rights remain the major revenue stream, but live ‘data rights’ have launched from a standing start to become a major part of the matrix of sports commercial rights. And data and betting can themselves drive fan engagement, and thereby increase the value of broadcast/media rights.
Private equity has spotted the attractions of the sports data business model – acquire multiple portfolios of data rights and monetise them in increasing ways in an expanding number of markets. Several of the larger data collecting businesses now have major private equity investors, and rights acquisition war chests are substantially higher than ever before. Simple market forces will dictate that competition for a limited range of sports data packages will drive up prices. Which begs the question as to who owns the data?
Legally speaking, this is a complex question, with different answers depending on the data type, the market, and the geography concerned. But, very simplistically, it is the organisers of events who hold the whip hand. The law as to whether there is a true proprietary right in data is constantly evolving, and as value and the dependence by business on access to data increases, questions of competition law compliance will undoubtedly escalate. But ultimately what matters is who can control the means of access to superfast, highly accurate, real time, data.
If data is the new oil, sports rights owners are the new JR Ewings. For all intents and purposes, they own the new ‘data fields’. They can choose to hand the exploitation of this valuable commodity to commercial operators, or they can choose to capture and distribute it themselves. Either way, they need an informed, legally compliant strategy to optimise their rights, and it will be those sports which seek properly to understand the opportunity, as well as the new challenges it presents, not least integrity risks, who will benefit the most.
Live data and betting streaming deals are being announced on a weekly basis, from minor football leagues to the NBA, from handball to badminton. The new market for sports data rights is well underway, and to stretch the Dallas metaphor still further, the first data ‘gushers’ are gushing. And the even better news for sports data rights owners is that, unlike oil, data last forever.