Is sports data ‘ownable’ and can it be given the same protections from piracy as sports media rights? Those are the questions at the heart of the dispute brewing between data and betting services companies Sportradar and Genius Sports.
The dispute boils down to the way Genius is controlling access to its rights as the official data supplier to Football DataCo (FDC), the data rights-holder for the English Premier League, the English Football League (EFL) and Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL). The deal, agreed in May, gives Betgenius, the betting division of the company, the rights to collect live game data in stadiums at over 4,000 fixtures across these leagues and distribute it to licensed sportsbook operators globally.
The partnership has been structured in such a way that Genius also controls the allocation of sub-licenses for these rights to other suppliers. Sportradar accuses Genius of abusing this ‘super-dominant’ position to foreclose the market to its competitors, arguing that it is not making the sub-licenses available on ‘fair market terms’. This, it claims, contravenes EU competition law.
The company is also complaining about the zero-tolerance approach FDC have taken in policing Genius’s rights. Monitors acting on behalf of FDC have been evicting unofficial data scouts from matches on the basis that their activities contravene the terms and conditions of the tickets to these games. Sportradar claims the ticketing conditions are void and unenforceable because they are part of a structure to create an unlawful information monopoly.
Genius and FDC contend that their actions are motivated by a desire to wrestle back some control over what they describe as a ‘black market’ in sports data. One of their terms for granting a supplier sub-license includes a requirement that all bookmakers in the downstream market need an over-license to use the official data. They argue this is the only way to make sure betting operators and data suppliers use official data – and pay a fair and reasonable price for it. In their view, the activities of unauthorised collectors drains money away from sport without providing anything in return, and the only reason downstream operators are squealing about their prices, and their zero-tolerance approach, is because the industry has become so accustomed to ‘pirating’ data and getting it on the cheap.
At this point, Sportradar has only sent a letter before action – a move which normally signals intent to take a case to court. But regardless of whether the dispute goes any further, it could influence the way other sports take their data rights to market.
At one stage, the US major leagues were agitating for the mandatory use of official data, or the charging of an integrity fee to make sure they derived a reasonable share of the revenues bet on their content. FDC’s strategy raises questions about whether it is commercially preferable – or indeed fair – for a rights-holder to sell data rights to one party and charge a premium for the exclusivity, or whether it is possible to create enough value in non-exclusive rights to motivate multiple partners to buy them.
Irrespective of the approach, sport sees just a small share of the huge sums wagered on its content. Genius’s exclusive deal with DataCo is estimated to be worth £100m over five years, still a relatively small sum compared with the billions the Premier League commands for its media rights. Any attempt to increase the value of these data deals by concentrating their exclusivity could embolden other sports and leagues to follow suit.
For a full analysis of the Sportradar and Genius data dispute, click here.