By Paul Nicholson
March 6 – The battle over the ownership and control of data generated by the English and Scottish leagues has entered a new potentially and defining phase that raises both public interest concerns as well as anti-competitive, creative copyright and integrity issues.
This season saw the start of a new agreement for the licensing and distribution of live data between Football DataCo (FDC) – the body that exploits the English Premier League (EPL), English Football League (EFL) and Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) data rights – and Betgenius who will on-sell those rights.
It is an exclusive deal between the two that is effectively leveraging any competition around the use of football data and creating a monopoly.
That monopoly is being challenged by Sportradar which has served legal proceedings against Betgenius and Football DataCo (FDC).
At the heart of Sportradar’s complaint is a challenge to the structure of the deal which the company says is designed to prevent Sportradar (and others) from collecting any live data. This means that for those leagues no database can be created. The arrangement also means that Sportradar can’t gather data on the leagues from attending the matches at venue.
It is possible for data gatherers to buy a sub-license and pay for the Betgenius/FDC data but it is not possible to buy a license allowing a data provider to create their own data.
Sportradar Managing Director Sports Partnerships David Lampitt says that the decision to take legal action is not Sportradar’s preferred action but that Sportradar ultimately had no alternative but to challenge an “unlawful information monopoly”. Betgenius and FDC control the type of data collect, how it is collected and how it is used.
“Taking legal action is the last resort,” said Lampitt. Sportradar’s legal submission includes a claim for damages to its business.
Lampitt points out that the issue of collecting data is not just around the top tier leagues in England and Scotland that have at least some broadcast coverage, but also around the lower leagues where the only way to collect the data is by attendance at games which they are now locked out of.
“The only way to make sure the source of the information is legitimate is to collect it ourselves because the vast majority of matches are not broadcast. But we are prevented from going into the venues,” said Lampitt. He has no issue paying for a license to collect the data.
The knock-on effect is ultimately that there will be less data available on the games which will inevitably lead to a contraction in the data business with fewer operators. With the contraction of the sector, Lampitt argues, will come a slowdown in innovation and the move from a competitive and thriving football data industry to, ultimately, a stagnant and self-serving monopoly. And in a fast moving digital world it will happen quickly.
In a press statement Sportradar said it “had hoped to find a fair solution that enables it to build its own database and to compete effectively in the market, but that has not proved possible.
“Sportradar remains open to the possibility of finding a resolution. However, ultimately, Sportradar supports a competitive marketplace in which there is genuine choice between 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.”
It is somewhat ironic that in an era where match manipulation whether for performance or betting-related reasons has again become a focus of football, the Betgenius/FDC deal will likely have the effect of reducing of the scrutiny of data around games and the efficacy of any investigation into match fixing. It is effectively an open invitation to match fixers and organised crime to engage in what is already a virtually unprosecuted crime.
It is probably safe to assume that the greed of the monopoly position created was not intended to expose the sport, the leagues and the players in quite this way.
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