An evolving debate around data

4 March 2019

US debates over the use of data and mandated integrity fees are threatening to destabilise the landscape over in Europe, where official data is not the only game in town, writes Scott Longley

An interesting side plot to the debate taking place in the US over the use of sports data and demands from the sports rights-holders for mandated integrity fees is the way the arguments are now also being played out in Europe.

The backdrops to the arguments on both sides of the Atlantic are of course very different, with the position of the rights-holders in Europe and the US far from analogous.

In Europe, the existence of the EU database right means the sports-betting industry has been able to source its data from a relatively open and competitive supply market.

Such is the situation as it currently stands. Yet as comments made at a gaming conference hosted by the law form CMS in London in January made plain, the situation is not wholly stable.

Speaking on a panel, Adrian Ford, the general manager at Football DataCo, pointed out that if a sport wants to “recognise the betting industry,” there is “no reason why it shouldn’t get some sort of commercial return for it.

“The logic is that it’s their game; sport is commercially about rights and I don’t think this is any different. Equally, I know this has been played out in the States, but there is an integrity risk and therefore reputationally, if there is an issue with betting on your sport, you are going to cop it.

“So, for lots of reasons, sports shouldn’t shy away from saying it’s not unreasonable to have a relationship with betting and that should have some commercial aspect to it.”

How much is too much?
Except, of course, as the bookmakers would argue, any deals on data should be seen in the broader context of all the commercial relationships that exist between sport and betting, including advertising, shirt sponsorships and betting partnerships.

It all adds up to a substantial transfer of money. At the CMS conference, Michael Short, legal counsel for sports management giant IMG, said that sports should “share in the commercial upside from betting.”

However, if this means (as is rumoured) being asked to pay £1m for the data rights to PGA golf, as is currently being hawked around by IMG, then neither party should be too surprised if the response, as one source suggested, might be a blunt “bugger off.”

As many have pointed out previously, there is a value to the sports data that is the lifeblood of the bookmakers. But perceptions of what that value is differ, by sport as much as anything but also according to ease of access.

For instance, the PGA likely feels it can ask for a big number from operators as the official data for shot-by-shot, hole-by-hole in-play golf betting can only come from the official trackers on course.

Yet, the question of how many operators will feel the need for a truly in-play golf product is as yet unanswered, and if the response recorded earlier to the rumoured data fee is prevalent among many bookmakers then that will likely remain the case.

Back with the current roster of known in-play winners, the arguments are perhaps more nuanced.

Establishing value
With regard to most coverage of football and tennis, the official data source is not the only game in town. As has been said many times by established providers such as Sportradar, when there is an economic case for investing in official data, as with their recently completed deal with the MLB for instance, then the rights-holders will likely find a willing audience for discussions around a fee for access to their content, provided that its value can somehow be protected.

Likewise, if the official data is wrapped up in a deal for AV rights, then there will definitely be buyers – even if the actual value of the data is often obscured within the value of the streaming rights.

But beyond that, the proliferation of data supply providers and the ease with which relatively basic technology can be wielded in order to legitimately obtain and transmit data from source to bookmaker means that attempting to confine operators to official sources is destined to fail.

A likelier long-term route to establishing the value of data comes from data complexity. The more widespread adoption of the statistical side of sports in Europe and the likely evolution of BetBuilder-type products points to the greater use of data by the consumer.

Newer products from the suppliers such as Opta’s new Fast Player feed and Sportradar’s Match Tracker offering are designed to offer the end consumer greater insight into the game from the data available.

If these match up with developments in the product, such as BetBuilder, then the centrality of the data is enhanced. This has implications for rights-holders, suppliers and operators alike and suggests that negotiating the value within this chain will continue to be a complex process.

For more on the data supply market, see the Game State 2019 report written by Scott Longley and Mark Israney and Marc Thomas from Propus Partners and published by iGaming Business as a standalone report

Scott Longley has been a journalist since the early noughties covering personal finance, sport and gambling. He has worked for a number of publications including Investment Week, Bloomberg Money, Football First, eGaming Review and Gambling Compliance