Taking a leaf from the NFL and the NBA playbooks, the NCAA Mid-American Conference and the PAC-12 signed major deals with sports data providers last month.
The wide-ranging data and sponsorship agreement provide Genius Sports and Tempus Ex Machina — two of the industry’s top data providers — with exclusive marketing rights to official player data for the next five years.
Information gathered usually includes player health metrics, shot tendencies, and minute-by-minute statistics. This is then typically sold to sports betting companies. As Kansas online sports betting inches closer to reality, this is something to watch in the state.
While it’s not a problem for professional leagues to sell the data of their athletes, the situation is not as clear-cut for college sports. That’s because the law is ambiguous on whether college conferences have the right to sell data of amateur players without compensating them.
Now that two of the Power 5 conferences have stepped up to the plate and partnered up with sports data providers, the question remains whether others follow suit and take the plunge?
First, some background.
Selling data holds big promise for pro and college sports
Profitable businesses are always on the lookout for ways to increase their income. After all, making money is their bottom line and what keeps them in the game. And in the US, some of the most lucrative businesses are sports-affiliated.
Last year, the North American sports market had a value of approximately $77.88 billion, with this figure expected to rise to $83.1 billion by 2023.
While most of this money is generated by professional leagues like the NFL, the NBA, and the MLB, the cash college conferences are raking in is nothing to scoff at.
According to sources from USA Today, NCAA revenue returned to $1.15 billion in 2021. Specifically, here are the gross revenues that each Power 5 league collected last year:
- Big Ten: $768.9 million
- SEC: $729.8 million
- PAC-12: $533.8 million
- ACC: $496.7 million
- Big 12: $409.2 million
It stands to reason that distributing official data to sportsbooks is another viable way for college conferences to increase income. Besides being a lucrative venture, it also reduces the prospects for game-fixing.
Some conferences are watching and waiting
Some of the conferences are cautiously holding back details of their decisions, which is understandable given several factors complicating the process.
High fragmentation in college sports is part of the problem. Ownership lies with various entities when it comes to who has control of their official data.
Schools hold the data from their home games, conferences own their tournaments and championship games. Likewise, the NCAA owns March Madness and other championships.
Oh, and then there is that little matter about the law.
Dan Lust, a lawyer at Geragos & Geragos and sports professor at the New York Law School, believes that if conferences aren’t careful they could be opening themselves up for lawsuits.
“Players could argue that player health metrics aren’t a conference’s to sell, that if they sell it, they’re profiting off of something the players should have control over,” Lust said.
The denial of these rights harks back to the old-age argument of college athletics becoming an increasingly exploitative economic institution.
Despite caution, more conference data deals are expected soon
Watching sources in college sports and the data world, it’s safe to predict that more deals are on the horizon.
By the next football season, both the SEC and Big 10 could partner with Genius Sports to have their sports data analyzed and disseminated.
There’s even talk that the NCAA could hand over its real treasure trove of college data that is March Madness to sports data providers in time for next year’s tournament.
Eric Foote, COO of PointsBet, a Denver-based sportsbook, is keen for schools to package live statistical data for sale.
“When you start to think about all the different data providers out there – adding Tempus Ex in the fold with Pac-1 – it just creates more challenges to ingest and work with multiple different providers,” Foote said.
However, the 20-year CBS veteran makes a point that he doesn’t intend to buy a pig in a poke. The value of the packages will highly depend on the quality of the information contained within those packages.
“That’s the million-dollar question … until we see the quality of the data, the latency of the data, and the breadth of the data. That’s the first question we’re going to have to analyze. And then, secondly, how will the conferences and their official data provider get to the market with it? What else will they wrap up into it?”
We’ll likely see more conferences joining forces with sportsbooks and data providers once parties iron out the legal details. The opportunities are just too good to pass up, and it makes good business sense.
Brody Schmidt / Associated Press