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?

The drive to monetise football data

In the age of analytics and statistics-driven media coverage of football, data is a valuable commodity. It is even more valuable when it comes to the betting markets, with in-play betting becoming increasingly popular amongst punters. As such, the timely receipt of data is very important to betting companies. Football DataCo occupies a unique position in this ecosystem. According to its website, Football DataCo:

“represents the data rights of the professional football Leagues in England and Scotland. The core elements of its role are to protect, market and commercialise the rights to official match related data.” 

Football DataCo has appointed Betgenius as “its exclusive partner to collect and distribute Official Data for the Betting and Gaming markets”. Betting and gaming companies are required to enter into a licence and a supply contract in order to use ‘Official Data’.

So how does this lead to a Hull City fan being threatened with ejection from the stadium, you may ask? According to a brief official statement from the club, Mr Mawer was the subject of a “spot check […] with regards to unauthorised data gathering”.

Two questions come to mind from the statements on Football DataCo’s website and Mr Mawer’s experience:

  1. What constitutes ‘Official Data’?
  2. What is ‘unauthorised data gathering’?

What constitutes ‘Official Data’?

The template licence provided on Football DataCo’s website provides an answer to the first question. The term “Data” is defined as:

all text, information, data and/or statistics collected or collated by or on behalf of [Football DataCo] relating to Matches, any occurrence during the Matches and the actions of any participants in the Matches including, without limitation, live match scores and results.

Note the reference to information “collected or collated by or on behalf of” Football DataCo. Presumably this is what constitutes Official Data, as this is the data that Football DataCo/Betgenius license to betting and gaming companies for use in their operations.

What is ‘unauthorised data gathering’?

On the second question, the phrase “unauthorised data gathering” does not clearly illustrate what Mr Mawer is alleged to have done wrong. According to Mr Mawer’s account of events, the gentleman who spoke with him and threatened him with removal from the ground said “there’s trouble with people notifying betting companies/or gamblers of events at a match so they could cash out/make a bet void.” This is something known as ‘courtsiding’.

Put simply, courtsiding isthe practice of transmitting information from sporting events for the purpose of gambling or of placing bets directly from a sporting event.” The essential idea of courtsiding is that by being physically present at a sporting event, you gain a small time advantage over betting companies (who often rely on Football DataCo’s Official Data), which allows you to make a bet with a near-guaranteed win, or cash-out if something happens which prejudices your bet. At the more extreme end of the spectrum, ‘scouts’ physically attend matches and relay information to betting syndicates who place large bets on in-game events with almost guaranteed outcomes, minimising their risk. This type of manipulation of the betting markets is problematic in that it subverts the usual element of chance present in all betting and gaming.

Nevertheless, Hull City’s description of Mr Mawer’s alleged activity is broader than courtsiding. The phrase “unauthorised data gathering” necessarily implies that data gathering must be authorised. It is worth considering the extent to which Football DataCo and Betgenius are entitled to stop people gathering data without their authorisation. That is the subject of the second piece in our two-part series looking at the ownership of data in football.