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Sports data groups in pitch battle over lucrative rights

30th September, 04:09

The two biggest data providers to sports betting companies are embroiled in a dispute with significant implications for the $65bn industry.

According to a letter seen by the Financial Times, Sportsradar has accused Genius Sports -- which has exclusive rights to English football's Premier League data via its partner, FootballDataCo -- of holding "an unlawful information monopoly over publicly available sports data".

Bookmakers say any such monopoly -- and consequent command of data pricing -- could push up prices making the odds worse for customers as bookmakers would need to recover higher costs.

The question of sports data ownership and pricing has become critical given the boom in in-play betting and the demand from punters for real-time information on which to base bets. Customers are betting on everything from the speed of a baseball pitch to the timing of the first corner in a football match.

Bet365, a UK bookmaker, said that in 2018, 77 per cent of its sports bets were made in-play. The growth of such real-time betting makes data collected by the leagues a valuable asset.

"You can't take a bet without access to data," said Adrian Ford, general manager of FDC.

Any future court battle would have a knock-on effect in the US, where a federal law banning sports betting was overturned last year and where in-play betting is particularly popular.

Neither Genius nor Sportsradar would comment. The tussle centres around the legitimacy of Genius's arrangement with FDC. Genius accuses Sportradar of mining data from Premier League stadiums in violation of ticketing conditions, which state that data collected in a stadium cannot be used for commercial purposes.

Sportradar argues that Genius's deal with FDC has created a monopoly that is contrary to EU competition law and therefore those ticketing conditions are void.

The issue has become increasingly heated after Sportradar signed an exclusive deal with the NFL in the US last month. Sportradar said this was not a monopoly because all NFL games were televised and therefore anyone could put together a data feed from the live stream. Not all UK football matches are.

But the stakes are high. The US is projected to become one of the most cash-generative betting markets in the world with William Hill, the UK bookmaker, projecting that it could add up to $19bn by 2023.

US sports lend themselves particularly well to in-play betting -- or prop bets as they are known there.

"The US is obsessed with statistics . . . so our in-play wagers are going to become even more significant than they are in other markets," said Jeremy Kudon, a partner at the law firm Orrick.

Mr Kudon, who represents Major League Baseball, Nascar and the National Hockey League, said they regard sports data as their intellectual property. "It seems like that's not that different than buying a T-shirt with a logo. There is no sports bet without what they've invested in their games."

The leagues are pushing for a law that would force bookmakers to either pay a royalty fee or use official league data.

Betting companies say this would, in effect, give the leagues a monopoly allowing them to dictate pricing. "If somebody runs for three yards, and there's someone that can watch it, that's a fact that's not protectable," said Bill Miller, president of the American Gaming Association.