The soccer leagues and the news media last week struck a deal over
the use of data deriving from football matches. It signals that content
owners are taking a tough line on the right to use information, says Ed
On the face of it, the agreement between the football industry and the
national press resolved a dispute about press accreditation.
The Football League and the Premier League had been seeking to have
journalists agree not to publish anything 'that would damage the
integrity or reputation' of the leagues in return for accreditation.
Predictably enough, the press refused. Since the deal did not attempt to
interfere with correspondents' copy in return for accreditation, wasn't
this a victory for the press?
Not according to some involved, who argue that the attempted coercion
might have been a distraction - the phrase 'red herring' has been
bandied about - to get the leagues and the clubs what they really
wanted: a greater share of the money.
This season's increased monitoring of journalists followed a realisation
by clubs that they were not exploiting the value of their estate.
Services that, say, alert mobile subscribers whenever a goal is scored
have until now created no money for the clubs whose players were doing
To position themselves to take a share of these extra revenues, the
industry first needed to find a way of controlling and owning the
information flow - something they will get under last week's deal.
Under the agreed terms, news organisations will only be able to publish
the information their journalists provide during three designated
periods within a match - in one report between the 20th and 25th
minutes, once at half-time and once between the 65th and 70th
News organisations will not be able to use press box journalists to, for
example, provide live commentaries, gather video, provide real-time
updates for websites or run mobile phone alert services - activities the
leagues believe have been happening from press boxes.
The deal also involves limits on the amount of match-related statistics
that can be collected and how they can be used by news
The leagues' thinking is linked to spread betting, with the clubs
wanting to restrict the open flow of data and to maintain a monopoly on
the kind of stats on which that kind of gambling is based: how many
times David Beckham takes free-kicks, for example, or the minute in
which the first corner is given.
With the media restricted to using this data in connection with match
reports, the leagues now have a valuable monopoly on using it in other
ways. For example, they will be able to sell it to bookmakers, who will
need it to derive odds.
The leagues - through their intermediary Football DataCo - have signed
an exclusive agreement with the Press Association to collate this
The same deal will also see PA provide the information for companies
wanting to run services that alert mobile users when goals are
The agreement with the news organisations ensured that press boxes were
full for the Nationwide League's start last Saturday, but it also
conceded a philosophical point. Those opposing the extension of the
leagues' control on the flow of information in this way argue that news
organisations have given too much away. Once a goal is scored in front
of a crowd, they say, it becomes public information because even those
outside the ground can hear the cheers and work out which team has
A National Union of Journalists (NUJ) spokesman says: 'The problem is
that the characters that run the leagues' business operation claimed
they own the copyright on the data and that journalists had no right to
it even if it is public domain. In reality, journalists are only
restricted if they come to an agreement restricting themselves - that's
The same spokesperson argues that the attempt to muzzle criticism of the
leagues might have been a bargaining chip to make this more palatable,
but with the clubs controlling the grounds from where reporting needs to
happen there was little room for manoeuvre.
THE PUBLISHERS - STEVE ORAM
Organisation: Newspaper Publishers' Association
'The issue was the use of live data digitally. The leagues wanted to
prevent publishers from publishing data live through websites or text
and we wanted to publish with as few restrictions as possible. In a new
area it can be looked at in different ways. You could say running things
such as websites was an extension of the newspaper's role as a delivery
mechanism - and, if the papers were not there, the clubs would be denied
the benefits of coverage, such as 40 million readers.
'Newspapers are important in promoting football and crucial for
sponsors. But the industry is seeking to exploit rights as much as
possible. It is the clubs driving it as they lose money through huge
transfer fees and salaries.
'There was a clause that would have effectively censored papers -
banning reporters from writing anything that could damage the reputation
of clubs or players - but it was most unhelpful and they took it
'At the conclusion of talks the proposal was to place some restrictions
on publishing during matches but to provide for some publishing within
the match. We think it was the best deal we could get.'
THE FOOTBALL INDUSTRY - DAVID FOLKER
Position: general manager
Publisher: Football DataCo
'Our view is straightforward. We want to encourage media coverage,
debate and discussion about football because we know it builds interest
in the sport and there is clearly a massive appetite for people to
watch, listen to and read about the game. With the advent of new
technologies there are a host of new ways to find out about what happens
in the match and we applaud that.
'But our role is to ensure the game benefits from information that
relates to league matches. In the same way that broadcasters pay for
transmission rights and those funds are distributed back into the game,
we believe that companies using live data should contribute financially
'Now that we have an agreement, all sides appreciate the issues
involved. We expect the publishers and reporters to respect the
agreement but will monitor different information channels. Through the
new terms agreed with the media industry, we will have recourse to the
companies and publications should we discover that live data and
statistics are being used without either notification or licence and in
breach of our agreement.'