Tottenham Report: Future Landscape of Data Rights By Scott Longley February 24, 2021 at 10:00 pm The empty stadia of top-class sports in lockdown has presented a dismal prospect. The echoing shouts and cries to the few players and staff in the arenas rebound around venues more suited to the singing of the multitude. Spare a thought, though, for the data scouts. While the rest of the spectators get to moan about a lack of atmosphere, the scouts still have a job to do, translating the action to the world’s bookmakers and ensuring in-play carries on even in these abnormal times. The importance of the data scouts to the bookies was in the spotlight at the start of February after it emerged that a half-dozen of Sportradar’s scouts were being pursued through the courts by English and Scottish football’s representatives, Football DataCo, and its appointed official data operation Betgenius. The move to single them out has been met with a degree of concern within the betting sector. All of this stems from Sportradar’s original competition claim which dates from February last year, by which Sportradar accused FDC and Betgenius of anti-competitive behaviour with regard to their efforts to enforce an ‘information monopoly’ around the exclusive multi-million-pound four-year deal struck between the two just ahead of the 2019-2020 season. That case hinges on Sportradar’s contention that the nature of the deal between FDC and Betgenius unlawfully attempts to create a monopoly in English and Scottish football data. FDC and Betgenius have countered, suggesting, amongst other things, that Sportradar and its scouts are in breach of the terms and conditions of their tickets to enter the ground. Break from the past This sports data version of ‘Jarndyce versus Jarndyce’ may or may not reach a conclusion at some point this year, but we can already see the outline of the coming landscape for sports data. Hints of the new terra incognita are already visible. First is the evidence from the prospectus for the Genius Sports’ (parent group to Betgenius) SPAC float in the U.S. which is due to complete any day now. The disclosures from the prospectus — notably the admission that Genius’ data rights costs have ballooned on the back of the FDC deal — paint the picture of a high-cost future. To counter this, we have a competing vision which is informed as much by what is going on in other areas of the rights landscape. See, for instance, the evidence from the situation in which the French football league has found itself. There, a battle over the worth of broadcast rights has seen the screen go blank for viewers. After having originally signed a deal with Spanish media group Mediapro worth €780m in annual rights fees, the league was left without a broadcast partner when its heavily indebted media partner stopped paying instalments last October and begged for a price cut. Mediapro eventually handed the rights back and the French league is currently left without a media partner. The lesson, as an FT article said, was that “greed” overcame the clubs that believed their rights were more valuable than the market was willing to pay. The same message was hammered home when the head of BT Sport, Simon Green, told the same paper’s Business of Football summit last week that Europe’s football leagues should prepare for a period of “rights deflation.” While FDC will be hoping the same isn’t true of the data rights market, a warning embedded within the Genius Sports prospectus suggests worries that the price of data is getting too steep for the end clients. “Increased competition amongst sports-data providers for data-collection rights granted by sports organisations could lead to an increase in the cost of those rights which we may be unable to pass on to our customers,” the company warns prospective investors. Meanwhile, against this uncertain legal and pandemic backdrop, it remains business as usual in the data rights space. In January, for instance, Sportradar signed a deal with the Asian Football Conference for data and associated media rights for the next two rights cycles of 2021-24 and 2025-28. In October, Stats Perform also added WTA tennis data to its roster, a deal which will include exclusive access to data from the umpire’s chair. The big picture is that the sports data sector is continuing to evolve, even as the shutters remain closed on the world’s sports stadia. The latest moves hint that cooperation amongst suppliers, sports and operators is not only achievable, but also desirable, as each looks to emerge into a post-pandemic future. Scott Longley has been a journalist since the early noughties, covering personal finance, sports and gambling. He writes for a number of online and print titles.