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Sportradar takes legal action against Premier League data company and Genius Sports over data deal

(Photo by Hannah Fountain - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Sports betting services company Sportradar has served legal proceedings against its rival Genius Sports and Football DataCo (FDC), the data rights-holder for the English Premier League, English Football League and Scottish Football League, claiming their official data supply partnership is anti-competitive.

Genius Sports agreed a five-year deal in May last year to become FDC’s official supplier of live data to the betting sector from 2019-20 to 2023-24. The deal gave the company’s sports betting division, BetGenius, the right to capture live game data at over 4,000 UK football fixtures and distribute it to bookmakers globally.

The deal placed the authority to sublicense the data rights to other data suppliers in BetGenius’ hands and requires all bookmaker clients in the downstream market have an ‘over-license’ to use the official Genius data, curtailing their ability to access data from other sources.

The two parties have subsequently taken a zero-tolerance approach to ‘unofficial’ data scouts, evicting any other supplier suspected of gathering data at games.

Sportradar has argued for some time that this strict approach, coupled with the licensing structure, places BetGenius in a ‘super dominant’ position and enables it to foreclose the market to its competitors.

Read this: Can data be classed as IP? Sportradar and Genius want to find out

In September last year, the company issued a letter before action, claiming the partnership contravenes EU competition law. It  has now announced it is seeking adjudication by the UK Competition Appeal Tribunal, which hears and decides cases involving competition or economic regulatory issues. Although the UK has now left the European Union, the country’s competition laws continue to be aligned with the EU bloc.

Sportradar’s managing director of sports partnerships, David Lampitt, told SportBusiness: “Effectively we’re being foreclosed from being able to collect, organise and distribute data on FDC competitions – not only because of the nature of the structure that FDC have put in place, but also because of the actions that they have taken in relation to preventing our scouts from being able to collect data at venues.”

Lampitt said the company was taking legal action with reluctance having spent the last eight months seeking to find a solution ‘through mutual agreement’ with Genius Sports. Last year he claimed Sportradar had applied to sub-license the FDC data in the initial tender process and had approached Genius with a similar request subsequently.

A statement on Sportradar’s website said the company favoured a “competitive marketplace” in which there is “genuine choice” between data suppliers.

“This competition is vital for innovation, genuine product choice and fair pricing and we believe these elements are worth protecting. The step Sportradar has taken is focused on that outcome.

“Sportradar is, and has always been, willing to pay for access, and to be part of an integrated, accredited, and fair system of collection and distribution which enables competition,” the statement continued.

The case is likely to revolve around interpretations of the EU’s Database Directive, which allows parties who make substantial investments in obtaining, verifying and presenting data to obtain an intellectual property right in the resultant database into which the data is stored. But the EU is also wary the directive should not be construed as giving any party a monopoly in facts.

SportBusiness understands Sportradar’s claim makes reference to the directive, even though it fell foul of the regulation itself in a case in 2013.

On that occasion, the England and Wales Court of Appeal ruled that Sportradar’s unauthorised use of FDC data to operate Sports Live Data, an online football statistics portal, amounted to ‘re-utilisation’ under the directive.

For the latest case, Sportradar is claiming that the only way it can break Genius Sport’s ‘information monopoly’ without infringing the EU Database Directive is to gather data at FDC matches – something which it is being prevented from doing. Not all FDC matches are televised, meaning the company cannot gather data from a media feed.

Genius Sports and the leagues represented by FDC, are likely to argue that their exclusive approach is a justifiable attempt to claw back a reasonable share of the large sums wagered on football and about controlling the way the official data is distributed.

Live data is the lifeblood of the in-play betting industry, as it allows bookmakers to accurately price their markets and settle bets rapidly and accurately. Until now, Genius and FDC say some suppliers have flouted official data rights by sending ‘unofficial’ scouts into matches where they gather data that they can sell at a reduced price to bookmakers. This, they argue, undermines the value of the official rights and short-changes football. In their view, the comparatively high premium Genius paid for exclusivity justifies the hard line FDC has been taking in policing stadiums.

It is a bold move for Sportradar to take the Premier League’s data partner to court, particularly given the league’s influence over other rights-holders.

SportBusiness understands Euroleague’s recent extension of its data rights agreement with Genius Sports bore similarities to the FDC deal, with the basketball league also taking a zero-tolerance approach to unofficial data scouts.

Sportradar claims it favours deal structures where multiple operators are able to access data through a viable source, such as the recent deal with European Professional Football Leagues (European Leagues) where the company shared data rights with rivals Genius and Stats Perform.

SportBusiness approached Genius Sports for comment but it hadn’t responded at the time of publication.