Sports lawyers across the UK sighed with disappointment in unison earlier this month, as it was announced that two titans in the live sports data industry, Betgenius Limited (Genius) and Sportrader AG and Others (Sportradar), settled their long-standing litigation over the rights to live match data out of court. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for those of us who were interested to see how Mr Justice Marcus Smith would wrestle with the issues at play, which had potentially wide-ranging ramifications for the sports data industry.
Here is a quick summary of the issues, why they matter, and what to watch out for looking forwards.
Who? Genius and Sportradar are global companies that connect the sports, betting and media industries. As part of their business, they collect, package up and sell sports data to third parties, for example, gambling companies and video game developers. They operate in the same industry and are major competitors.
What is live sports data? Live sports data is data related to a particular sporting event that is collected on a real time basis. Data points include the moment an athlete becomes injured, a sudden change in weather, the moment a goal is scored. The data is precise, wide ranging, and incredibly valuable; the commercial value resides in the margin between the event happening on the ground and the tv broadcast (generally only a few seconds) as the sports betting operators want to be able to update their offerings in real time.
How is it protected? Establishing subsistence and infringement of copyright and suis generis database rights in live sports data is difficult given the type of the data and how it is stored and used. It’s also difficult to protect live sports data as confidential information at common law, as can be seen from the Racing Partnership case (which we commented on here). So, rights holders are usually forced to rely on contractual protection (i.e., provisions contained in ticket terms and conditions and ground regulations which prohibit and allow the eviction of unofficial data scouts who gather and distribute data in real time from the stadia without permission).
Why did Genius and Sportradar fall out?
Competition law claim
The initial dispute centred on competition law issues associated with sporting bodies granting exclusive access to live sports data to companies (and the effects on downstream competitors).
In short, Genius was granted a 5-year exclusive licence from the Football Data Co (FDC), a company that represents the data rights of certain football leagues in England and Scotland (including the Premier League), to access and use live sports data from the relevant football matches. This licence enabled Genius to sell the data on to betting companies so that they could offer live betting whilst matches take place.
Stranded on the side-lines, Sportrader issued a claim in the Competition Appeal Tribunal, alleging that the licence breached competition law on the basis that the exclusive access afforded to Genius blocks others from the market and restricts competition, and constitutes an abuse by inhibiting the provision of data by third party providers.
As a counterclaim made to the High Court, Genius accused Sportradar of sending scouts to run an illegal data collection operation from the matches and selling this data (an unofficial “secondary stream”), which Sportradar allegedly licensed to betting operators in competition with the Genius official stream.
Genius argued: (i) that the scouts had breached the ts&cs of the tickets; (ii) the data was confidential information and/or a trade secret and Sportradar’s activities were therefore a breach of confidence; and (iii) Sportradar’s and the scouts’ activities amounted to an unlawful means conspiracy.
The settlement statement was short and sweet, but to summarise:
- Competition law claim: FDC can continue to licence and market FDC data as usual. Genius “maintains the exclusive right to provide low latency Official FDC betting data rights until 2024” but has agreed to sublicence a delayed feed (to be marketed as the Official FDC Secondary Feed) to Sportradar.
- Infringement claim: Sportradar agreed to refrain from unofficial in-stadia scouting of the leagues.
Sadly (but understandably) “the remaining terms of the settlement are confidential.”
The settlement leaves us with a number of unanswered questions – can live sports data have the necessary quality of confidence? If so, what separates it from the Racing Partnership case referred to above? Might Genius’ exclusive licence from the FDC be a breach of competition law?
We expect that it may not be long before these questions are answered. The market for live sports data is fiercely competitive (companies like Sportradar and Genius aggressively court rights holders for the access to live sports data), and it’s also litigious. In fact, this is not the first time that the parties have been embroiled in sports data-related litigation, with the previous litigation brought by FDC against Sportradar on the basis that the latter was infringing the former’s database rights.
Rights holders will be keeping a close eye on developments. Exclusive deals for sports data are incredibly lucrative (look to the US where the NFL and NBA secured huge exclusive deals for their data) and as such, the exclusive supply model employed by the FDC in this case serves it well. It’ll certainly be interesting to see whether any changes are made to the structure of available rights packages offered by the FDC when the current licence expires in 2024.