The relationship between sports and sports betting is intrinsically tied to the availability of high quality, accurate data – and even more so in this digital age. In recent months the sports betting industry has come under increased scrutiny from the Gambling Commission – for example, just weeks ago the Commission launched an investigation into the so-called ‘bet-to-view’ deal between the Football Association and bookmakers. This scrutiny brings the spotlight on to all aspects of the sports betting industry including that of sports data.
It was against this backdrop that moderator Paul Stevens of CMS posed the following question to the panellists - is such scrutiny likely to affect the market for supplying sports data? Adrian Ford, General Manager at Football DataCo, took a high-level approach and stressed the fact that data is fundamental to the sports betting industry stating, “you just cannot accept a bet without data”. The possibility of a world where the sports industry does not engage with the betting industry was discussed, however the overall consensus was that this is unlikely, with Michael Short, VP and Associate General Counsel at IMG Arena, adding that this would “not be the right step for the industry or consumers”.
Continuing with this theme of increased scrutiny, another key area is the role of data in ensuring a fair and legitimate sports betting market. David Lampitt, Managing Director of Sports Partnerships at Sportradar, explained how data is crucial to helping bookmakers identify unusual betting activity, but also how emerging technology, such as machine learning, can be implemented to further enhance their ability to spot such activity.
The panel’s discussion turned to the subject of integrity and the debate over official and unofficial data. Andrew Ashenden, Chief Betting Officer at Stats Perform, took the stance that people should not automatically associate unofficial data with having integrity concerns. Contrary to the image of the ‘man in the crowd with dark glasses and a fake moustache’, David raised the point that even unofficial data suppliers are becoming more sophisticated and that while unofficial data may not be as accurate as its official counterpart, there is a place in the market for such products, especially for operators that are more price sensitive, and in any case the issue of accuracy should not be confused with that of integrity. However, approaching the subject from a more consumer focused lens, raises concerns about whether there should be a market for such products at all. Settling bets on inconsistent data coming from different sources can lead to consumer risk. Equally valid are the concerns regarding a lack of competition in the market if only one source of data exists and what effect exclusive data supply deals can have on the market. A point that Adrian tackled by distinguishing between the collection of data (which he believes should come from a single source) and the distribution of data to operators (which he believes promotes a competitive market).
The panel ended with a discussion of some of the other issues facing the sports data industry including the rise of 5G and its impact on the amount of unofficial suppliers, the recent rule changes to the tendering process for data supply contracts and last but certainly not least the impact Brexit will have on the supply of sports data. Ultimately whilst these issues will present challenges from both a legal and implementation perspective, the overall impact will be hard to predict.