The English Premier League agrees with the NBA's and Major League Baseball's vision of a legal sports betting market in the United States.
The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to rule on the future of sports betting in America. A decision is expected by the end of June -- possibly as soon as next week -- and could open paths for states across the nation to offer legalized sports betting.
As they await the ruling, the NBA and MLB have been lobbying on the issue in more than a dozen of the states interested in sports betting. The NFL, NHL and NCAA remain on the sidelines. Other leagues could come on board at some point. The PGA Tour joined the lobbying effort last week.
Attorneys for the NBA and MLB are asking that sports betting operators be required to use official league data, share customer data, pay a percentage fee of the amount wagered on the sports and allow the leagues to have input on what types of bets sportsbooks are allowed to offer. The EPL supports that framework and believes a partnership between sports leagues and bookmakers would best serve the betting market.
"Broadly, we don't think what the leagues are asking for is fundamentally wrong, if you're trying to come up with a framework that works for both parties," said Adrian Ford, general manager of Football DataCo, the official rights holder for the Premier League and all professional soccer leagues in England and Scotland.
Since its inception in 1992, the EPL has operated alongside the United Kingdom's legal sports betting market, benefiting financially through data licensing rights, but not through a direct cut of the betting action. Individual clubs are free to have sponsorship agreements with bookmakers. Online sportsbook Bet365 owns Stoke City, and nine clubs have the names of betting sites across the front of their jerseys this season.
"We would not see why there would be an issue about sports getting a return from betting," Ford told ESPN in a phone interview this week. "We'd echo some of the high-level statements the NBA has made. If someone is making money off us, there's no reason why we shouldn't be interested in that and why we shouldn't have some level of involvement in the commercial return. It's clearly not what we have here [in the United Kingdom]."
The NBA, MLB and PGA are asking for a fee of 0.25 to 1 percent of the amount bet on league events. Australia, France and New Zealand are examples of jurisdictions that require bookmakers to pay fees to sports leagues based on the action. In the U.K., horse racing is the only sports organization that receives a direct fee (10 percent of gross win) from operators.
Ford said there have been past attempts to persuade the U.K. government to impose a betting rights fee, but the issue never gained traction. However, U.K. leagues have won intellectual property rights on databases, something the U.S. leagues also are targeting.
In 2001, the professional soccer leagues in England and Scotland, including the EPL, partnered to create Football DataCo, an enterprise that protects, markets and commercializes official match-related data. The company initially charged media entities and bookmakers to use the EPL fixtures, before losing a legal battle on the issue that lasted from 2004 to 2012. Shortly after, Football DataCo prevailed in another legal case, this time against Sportradar, and was granted intellectual property rights on the statistics inside its database.
"It's all the events that are relevant: fouls, corners, throw-ins, goals, bookings," Ford said.
Football DataCo has an official data supplier in RunningBall. It licenses the data to bookmakers and charges media for its feed through distributor Opta Sports.
U.S. leagues do not enjoy similar data rights and have lost multiple court cases, generally on First Amendment grounds, regarding ownership of scores, statistics and publicity rights of athletes. In 1997, a federal appeals court ruled against the NBA and found that Motorola and Stats Inc. could transmit real-time game scores and statistics. In 2008, a judge ruled against Major League Baseball and said a St. Louis-based company called C.B.C Distribution and Marketing had the right to use names and performance statistics of athletes for fantasy games.
The PGA Tour has had more success on the issue in court. It won a 2004 case against media company Morris Communications that found the live scores derived from the PGA Tour's Real-Time Scoring System (ShotLink) were proprietary.
The NBA and MLB are asking states to require bookmakers to use official league data to grade some types of wagers, mostly bets that are placed after an event begins. International sports data companies Sportradar and Genius Sports have created partnerships with the NBA and MLB, respectively. Genius Sports partnerships in the U.S. are based on integrity measures.
Nevada bookmakers are not required to use official league data feeds to grade wagers. Sportradar's data fuels some of the mobile, live-betting platforms used by Nevada sportsbooks, though.
"When it comes to customers and integrity and really trying to provide the best experience, official data, backed by the leagues, is fact," Ford said. "You need a gold standard.
"Ultimately, the common goal -- and it is easier said than done -- must be to have a functioning, regulated, safe betting market that brings all the offshore money onshore for the good of the sport, for the protection of the players and presumably for the good of the states that are going to get tax revenues."