Whose data is it anyway? Part 1 – Hull City fan caught up in the tangled-web of football data

In the first of a two-part series, Sports Shorts looks at the ownership of data collected at football matches. With the new football season still in its infancy, fans of many clubs remain full of the optimism that comes with the sensation that anything is possible in the months to come. When Daniel Mawer arrived at the KCOM stadium to watch his team Hull City face Reading in their first home game of the season, he was likely full of that same positivity; he could not have predicted that he would be threatened with ejection from the ground simply for texting his friends and relatives updates from the game. Mr Mawer posted an account of his experience in a Twitter thread, which caught the attention of Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, amongst other high-profile figures. So why was Mr Mawer texting during the game a problem? Continue Reading

Football, gambling and advertising: The opposite of a young man’s game

Gambling and football – two words that go hand-in-hand for a lot of football fans. For many punters, having a flutter on a match-day is an essential part of their footballing experience. Betting companies looking to attract customers spend significant sums on advertising, but it can be difficult to get things right, especially when it comes to complying with the regulations applicable to gambling advertisements. The Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) recently found that BetIndex Ltd (“BetIndex”) breached the non-statutory rules that govern gambling ads. Continue Reading

Unearthing the Pitch-side Mole: How to Protect Confidential Information in Sport

The importance of keeping certain information confidential in sport should not be underestimated. Knowledge of even the smallest piece of information relating to an opposing club or rival’s team selection, tactics, recruitment targets or commercial arrangements can give the club in receipt of such information a significant advantage both on and off the pitch. Continue Reading

Discrimination in football: Will rule changes help to kick it out?

A report from Kick It Out, the anti-discrimination charity, found that reports of racism in English football rose by 43% last season, from 192 instances to 274. Meanwhile, reports of faith-based discrimination rose by 75% from 36 instances to 63. It is the seventh consecutive year that reported incidents of discrimination in football have increased.

This begs the question, what are the footballing authorities, clubs, players and fans doing to combat discrimination in football? Continue Reading

From A Missed Call On The Field To A Deposition On The Record

Few things are more ubiquitous in sports than informing an official—sometimes politely but, more often than not, rather impolitely—that they made an incorrect call.  Officials no doubt anticipate this hostility and tune it out while on the field.  What they likely do not anticipate, however, is being haled into a deposition months after the game ended to be questioned under oath about a call made on the field.  Yet this is the exact situation currently facing several officials of the American National Football League (NFL).

On January 20, 2019, the New Orleans Saints hosted the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game.  At stake, a trip to the Super Bowl, one of the most-watched sporting events in the world, to face the New England Patriots.  With just under two minutes remaining in the game, and with the teams tied at 20 points apiece, the quarterback for the Saints threw a perfect spiral to an open receiver practically waltzing into the end zone.  This game-winning touchdown pass was forcefully interrupted by a Rams defensive player who, having sprinted from mid-field and lowered his shoulder, leveled the Saints receiver before the ball was even remotely close to the receiver’s outstretched hands.

This was a textbook example of “pass interference” in the NFL—a foul that occurs when “a player more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage significantly hinders an eligible player’s opportunity to catch the ball.”[1]  But the official, standing a mere ten feet from the play, did not call a penalty for pass interference.  The home crowd roared in anger; had the call been made, the Saints would have likely scored a touchdown on the play, or at the very least been well situated to do so.  Instead, the Saints settled for a field goal.  The Rams then took possession, quickly marched down the field, and kicked a field goal to tie the game.  The Rams went on to win the game in overtime.

Saints fans were furious.  In the wake of the loss, a few of the more opportunistic fans filed several lawsuits based on the no-call, including a class action against the NFL, its commissioner Roger Goodell, and the officials themselves.  Three such lawsuits ended up in federal court—one was originally filed there, and the NFL successfully removed two others from state court.  Each federal case was quickly dismissed by the courts.

A fourth lawsuit, however, is still pending in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court in Louisiana.  This lawsuit, filed by four Saints fans, alleges fraud by NFL officials and personnel.  Notably, the lawsuit seeks $75,000 in damages, keeping it below the threshold necessary to remove to federal court.  In other words, this lawsuit is parked firmly in state court, where judges are elected rather than appointed, and which has already inured to the plaintiffs’ benefit.  Despite efforts from NFL’s legal counsel, a Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld the trial court’s decision to allow the lawsuit to proceed.

While the NFL can appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court, the decision was nonetheless a win for the plaintiffs, who just last week were permitted to conduct discovery in the case.  Wasting no time, the plaintiffs have served the NFL with requests for documents and information.  In addition, the trial court has permitted the plaintiffs to depose Mr. Goodell and three of the officials from the NFC Championship game, with depositions tentatively scheduled to begin in September.  At the heart of these depositions will be the decision not to call pass interference, and whether those officials were disciplined for missing the call.

While the plaintiffs’ likelihood of success on the merits remains to be seen, their efforts to date are nonetheless impactful.  Assuming the NFL does not mount a successful appeal, the precedent has been set where NFL personnel, including officials, can be forced to give sworn testimony regarding decisions made on the field.

 

[1] Official Playing Rules of the National Football League, Rule 8, Section 5, Article 1.

Taking the Issue of Unequal Pay onto the U.S. District Court’s Turf

As recently mentioned on Sports Shorts, the spotlight on the gender pay gap has been amplified following the fourth World Cup win by the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (“WNT”).  In this post, we provide a brief summary of the recent class action lawsuit filed by members of the WNT against the United States Soccer Federation (“USSF”).

With the U.S. District Court as Goalie, Will the WNT Score Equal Pay?

On Friday, March 8, 2019 (i.e., International Women’s Day), a class action lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against the USSF.  Plaintiffs consist of 28 female soccer players, including lead plaintiff Alex Morgan and current WNT captain Megan Rapinoe.

The Complaint states, “the USSF has a policy and practice of discriminating against members of the WNT…on the basis of gender” by: 1) paying them less; and 2) providing them with less favorable terms and conditions of employment than the similarly situated U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team (“MNT”) players.[1]

First, the WNT contends that they spend more time practicing for and playing in matches, training sessions, and traveling than similarly situated MNT players, yet are paid significantly less than the MNT players.  The pay structure argument is complex, as each team has its own collective bargaining agreement with the USSF.  Specifically, the players on the MNT are paid when they make the team and they also receive higher game bonuses.  Meanwhile, the players on the WNT receive guaranteed salaries supplemented by significantly smaller match bonuses.

The second allegation of discrimination goes beyond pay, extending into “playing, training, and travel conditions; promotion of their games; support and development for their games and other terms and conditions of their employment that are less favorable than provided to the MNT players.”[2]  For instance, among several examples, the Complaint alleges that the USSF subjected the WNT to “playing on inferior surfaces,” such as artificial turf, for 21% of their domestic matches, whereas the MNT only had to play 2% of their domestic games on artificial surfaces.[3]  The WNT asserts that the “USSF has no legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the gross disparity in the terms and conditions of employment.”[4]

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Sports Shorts Blog – The Gender Pay Gap and the Women’s World Cup

The gender pay gap debate continues in business as it has for a number of years. Confusion surrounding the topic remains widespread with many conflating it with equal pay and others denying its existence entirely.  Companies in the UK are now publishing their latest gender pay gap figures and the data reveals that men are typically paid more than women in most UK businesses.

But what are the implications in sport?  It is no secret that female athletes are paid less than men across most sports.  We are told that this is because interest in women’s sport is lower and as far as entertainment events go, they generate less money. That said, the disparate compensation, even at large combined tournaments (like golf and tennis) still requires our attention (for example, when in 2016 it was noted that at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati Roger Federer received $731,000 for defending his title while Serena Williams received $495,000 for defending hers just a few hours later). Fortunately for female professional tennis players, tennis has made huge progress paying women and men the same at Grand Slams and certain combined ATP 1000/WTA Premier Mandatory tournaments. Equal pay for equal play, right?

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NO TRY – World Rugby’s Nations Championship proposal is ruled out

Rugby Goal PostsWorld Rugby has abandoned its plans to launch a new Nations Championship competition after failing to get the necessary support for the project. World Rugby required unanimous backing from the ten nations who comprise the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship by 19 June 2019, however this was never achieved. Sports Shorts previously discussed the pros and cons of the proposal, but it appears that the concerns of some nations have collapsed the project just short of the try-line.

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