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Home / News and Insights / Insights / Sports data: Who has ownership?

Technology has had a huge influence on the modern world, across most industries – and sport is no exception. In 2019, the global sports technology market was valued at US$ 24.14 billion. It is expected that by 2027, the market will be worth US$ 65.41 billion. Technology has not only altered the way in which fans can watch and engage with sports, but it has also provided sportsmen, women, and coaches with the opportunity to monitor and analyse performance with the goal of making themselves or their teams more competitive. A recent example of this technology is Liverpool Football Club’s partnership with Google to create ‘Tactic AI’: a fully AI system that can provide coaches with tactical insights into their team and their opponents, through predictive and generative AI. Tactic AI’s suggestions were actually preferred by human experts 90% of the time over the tactical set ups already seen in practice – this just shows the level of improvement that can be harnessed by technology. But what we are interested in is what is imported into and exported out of these technologies that enables them to produce the desired outcomes.

The key to these advances is data. Data in respect of sporting events is becoming increasingly commercialised and valuable, but it raises the question of who actually owns that data? Is it the athlete on the pitch, or the sports organiser, or the television licenser showing the match? There are 2 different categories of sports data: ‘competition data’ – the actual outcome of the match, such as the score at the end of the game; and ‘performance data’ – statistics detailing how the teams and the individual players performed. Sports professionals are becoming increasingly concerned about how their data is collected and used. This was brought to light in 2022, when the Fédération Internationale des Associations de Footballeurs Professionnels, in collaboration with FIFA, developed the ‘Charter of Player Data Rights’, which aims to define the interests and legal rights of players regarding their personal data. This Charter was created in the wake of new challenges caused by technological advances in the sports sector. For example, athletes are increasingly concerned by the use of their personal health and biometric data being used in performance analysis.

In the UK, the definition of ‘personal data’ is found in Article 4 of the GDPR. This defines ‘personal data’ as any information relating to a natural person who (a) can be identified or who is identifiable, directly from the information in question; or (b) can be indirectly identified from that information in combination with other information. Applying this definition in the context of sports data, any data collected in matches, races or competitions will fit into this definition and therefore will be ‘personal data’, which makes it of a sensitive nature. There are many uses for this performance data, the main ones of which are opposition research, player transfers and betting. Naturally, the latter is where we see the highest amount of commercial value put on the data. But when a football game is being broadcast live to millions of people, the commercial operator who pays for the ‘exclusive’ rights to the data from the event is presented with a problem. Due to technology, real-time data from the game can be captured electronically, and also by scouts who are physically present at games, meaning the commercial operator is no longer the sole distributer.

This issue has formed the basis for a number of legal challenges relating to who owns the data and therefore who is authorised to collect and distribute it. Major cases such as: The Racing Partnership v Sports Information Services; and Genuis Sports v Sportsradar formed the basis for these arguments. More recently in March 2023, official sports data collector IMG Arena filed a claim against rival fast-path data provider Stats Perform (Perform Content Services Limited) at the UK High Court of Justice. IMG Arena allege that Stats Perform hired scouts to collect betting data across several European football leagues, which had exclusively contracted with IMG. The Defendant’s application to strike out or for summary judgement was dismissed in December 2023 due to the judge finding the Claimant had a real prospect of success. A copy of the judgement can be found here. A decision in this case will be notable given the uncertainty in the law around the collection and distribution of sports and betting data.

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