HEAD TO HEAD: Money driving football's tough line

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

the scoring.

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

what happened.'

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.


Position: director

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.'


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

to football.

'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.'

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