For anyone hoping to understand how the three-way relationship among the major sports leagues, the sports betting data suppliers and their operator partners will develop, Europe provides an interesting compare and contrast.
In the US, the provision of official league data has emerged as one of the most sensitive topics in the debates surrounding the further regulation of sports betting. The mixture of politics, sports integrity and money has proved highly volatile and elicits strong opinions on all sides.
In comparison, far less heat is being generated in the European space – albeit with some recent exceptions we will discuss.
These official league data things take time
It needs emphasizing that the sports betting market has developed along very different lines in Europe, where the gradual process of gray gambling markets moving to regulate has taken more than a decade to evolve.
But with the data, a key difference with the US is the backdrop of the EU database rights. In an ecosystem where IP rights only apply to a database that has been created and crucially not the data itself, the database right provides the framework within which all the data providers operate.
“The fact that there isn’t a recognized right in sports data means it is an industry (in Europe) that has grown up with a relatively modest level of input cost,” said David Lampitt, global head of league partnerships at Sportradar.
In-play emergence in Europe
The EU database right has provided the platform for the evolution in Europe of in-play betting with the availability of the data at relatively low price point fostering innovation at a product level.
The database right applies whether the data is collected under the auspices of an official league data deal or via open source means. It has led to a situation whereby all three major suppliers in the space – Sportradar, StatsPerform and Genius Group – now provide both types of data to their clients.
This, of course, is very different from the situation in the US sports betting market. While official league data as a product does feature in the European data space, the availability of other options means that open-source data is more of an accepted feature of the market.
It also brings competition into the marketplace and provides a brake against price inflation in the data market. Industry sources suggest that data represents less than 10% of the cost base of the larger sportsbooks (as a percentage of costs it is higher for smaller operators) and that the fees charged in Europe are analogous to the circa 1.5% of gross gaming revenue that Sportradar is rumored to be asking for NFL betting data.
Out for the count
As alluded to, there is some friction building within the European space with English soccer. Football DataCo is eyeing the developing debate in the US and pushing for greater fees in return for access to official league data.
FDC’s new official and exclusive deal with BetGenius has recently been the cause of some escalation in tensions.
Outwardly, this is because of the somewhat heavy-handed actions of the security guards that have been employed to identify and eject from the grounds data scouts from other organizations. Less publicly, it’s because of what has been rumored to be the prices being demanded by FDC/Genius Group for access to their data.
Open-source scouting is also an issue in the US but to a lesser extent due to the number of games that are televised, thus allowing off-tube scouting. Off-tube also takes place in Europe, but in markets such as the UK where there is a TV blackout on English Premier League (EPL) and English Football League (EFL) games taking place at 3 pm on a Saturday, it means in-stadia scouting is more often required.
The next frontier in official data
Where developments in the US and Europe converge is in the area of player-tracking technology. In Europe, the deployment of such techniques has not been business-critical for betting, says Lampitt, due to the nature of the bet types on the most popular sports of soccer and tennis.
In comparison, Angus McNab, previously a vice-president at Perform in the US and now a New York-based consultant in the sports data space, says player-tracking will be much more mission-critical for US sportsbooks.
“Next-generation tracking data will be of much higher value in US sports – basketball, football, hockey in particular – as they have a far higher volume of substitutions/line changes so player identification and who is on the court/pitch becomes critical for creating many more prop bets,” McNab said.
Such data is impossible to replicate other than through official league data access. If bet types based on that data become the industry standard, then that will likely strengthen the value of official data but inevitably have a greater impact on costs.
Mandates vs. commercial data deals
It will also have an impact on the debate around legislative efforts on mandated use of official league data. It is this question which provides our last point of comparison between the US and Europe: while the debate is far from dead in Europe, to date sports-betting rights have only seen the light of day in France and Poland.
Elsewhere, it has long been deemed that the benefits sports gain from their commercial relationships with betting far outweigh the need for a further legislated financial contribution.
This is unlikely to change given the extent of the entanglements between sport and gambling across the continent and the comparative lack of political heft on the part of the various sports leagues and bodies.
How the US might be different
However, the US major leagues may provide a more heavyweight lobby in this respect. Having said that, US states that have legislated after the fall of PASPA have generally been reluctant to provide this enshrined protection to the sports leagues with only Illinois and Tennessee having included any requirement on mandated official data.
This is perhaps unsurprising, given that any extra financial leverage for the leagues is likely to reduce the financial benefits for the states themselves who are vying for a slice of the same pie.
Perhaps this, more than anything, will determine whether the US ends up adopting a model that is more or less aligned with the European ecosystem. There are plenty of stakeholders following the debate closely to see how this plays out.