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Big Data in Sports: Changing the Game


Loeb & Loeb partner Brian R. Socolow, co-chair of the firm’s Sports Practice, discusses the evolution of data use in professional sports, including the unprecedented legal challenges surrounding ownership of, access to and acceptable use of that data. The full video transcript is below.

The Role of Data in Sports

Data is a form of content. And you've heard the saying, "Content is King." Sports organizations are figuring out how to monetize data. They're figuring out how it could be used by broadcasters, by fantasy companies, by gaming companies, by fans – really by anybody who has an interest in the sports industry. They're also using it for fan engagement. The more data is available on what's happening on a playing field or on a court, it really enhances the fan experience. 

The other thing that sports organizations are doing with data is using it for measurement and training and performance purposes for their athletes. Teams and organizations want to know how much an athlete has slept, what they've eaten, how they've worked out – and data lets them do that. So it's very important to sports organizations that they have control of that data and use it in a way that can help the on-field performance of athletes.

Data Ownership, Access and Privacy Concerns

There are a lot of legal consequences and a lot of legal issues that are coming out of the use of data. The foremost thing is: Who owns that data? How does it get collected? And what can be done with it? Those are issues that haven't all been worked out at this point because they're so new. You have sports organizations that want to have control of that data. Players want to have control of that data. Leagues want to have that data so that they can monetize it, possibly sell it to broadcast partners or make it available to those broadcast partners for their use.

There are tremendous privacy implications from data and sports, just like data and other contexts. But in sports, you have a team, for example, that might be collecting data. What happens to that data? Is it going to be kept private? Is it secure from hackers? And then for that athlete, they want to know that their data is being protected, because conceivably it can be used for or even against them in contract negotiations or in a lot of other ways.

So it's very important from the player perspective, from the team perspective and also from the competitive-aspect perspective that any data that gets collected in sports stays with the team or the player that's collecting it, and isn't disseminated and isn't used by people who shouldn't have access to it.

The Future of Sports Data in Collective Bargaining Negotiations

We're really going to see in the next round of collective bargaining that happens between the players’ associations in the four major sports and the leagues what the mechanisms and protocols are going to be for data. Those haven't been sorted out yet. There's no standard. Some leagues want to make sure that they own the data, and they'll just have players sign away their rights. Other leagues don't want that at this point or they don't know what to do with that data or how they're going to handle it.

As of right now, teams cannot force players to collect data. That's going to be one of the subjects that comes up in the collective bargaining agreements that each league has going forward. I think you will see going forward that there will be more written agreements in effect and there will be more rules about that data, but for now there is some collaboration because the teams and players both realize it's in both of their interests to have that data collected and to figure out what beneficial uses can be made of it.

Data is content, which means data is a revenue stream for everybody. And whenever there's a revenue stream in sports, the players’ associations in the leagues figure out how that's going to be divided. Data is no different. You'll absolutely see that as the leagues negotiate their collective bargaining agreements.