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Sports leagues struggle to deal with data

A football field with money ledger lines instead of yard lines
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

All the major sports leagues are counting on data to usher them into the future, revolutionizing everything from how teams prepare for games to how fans engage with content and, increasingly, place bets.

Why it matters: This analytics boom has produced some thorny questions, writes Bloomberg's Eben Novy-Williams. For example, "should a player's privacy factor in? Should the data be used in contract negotiations? And who should share the spoils if broadcasters and sports gambling companies pay for the information?"

Driving the news: A 16-person advisory board has been formed by research firm Sports Innovation Lab to answer these questions and produce standards and best practices by the end of the year.

  • The advisory board, which met for the first time this week, is made up of executives from professional sports leagues, players unions, sports books and tech companies.

Between the lines: The board is focusing on two key areas: privacy and money.

  • Privacy: To use the NFL as an example, every player has a tiny chip in their shoulder pads that tracks their every move. All 32 teams have access to that data and are allowed to use it in contract negotiations. Will players, who don't even have full access themselves, continue to tolerate that?
  • Money: Casino operators like MGM are already paying more than $10 million to officially partner with leagues and gain access to all of that data, which allows them to offer customers the chance to bet on things like "which player will skate the fastest." Players should probably get a cut of that money ... right?

The big picture: Think of athlete data in 2019 like broadcast rights 50 years ago, says Ahmad Nassar, president of the NFL Players Association's licensing and marketing subsidiary.

  • "Now everybody gets it, but 50 years ago I don't think people understood the [broadcast rights] opportunity — it was all about gate revenue, selling out games, concessions and parking," Nassar told Bloomberg. "Data can follow that same path."

Go deeper: The high-stakes game for sports betting dollars

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