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Sports Data Policies Could Represent Next Big Antitrust Challenge For Pro Sports Leagues

 |  June 11, 2019

By Marc Edelman, Forbes

For the past 50 years, professional sports leagues have periodically found themselves defending antitrust lawsuits related to their efforts to collectivize individual team property rights. Past lawsuits of this nature have arisen from attempts to centralize television broadcast rights (Chicago Bulls v. NBA), new media rights (Madison Square Garden v. NHL) and licensed merchandising rights (American Needle v. NFL). Now, with the rapid advent of new U.S. markets for sports gambling, certain U.S. professional sports leagues may find themselves facing yet another antitrust challenge, this one related to the centralization of purported “game data rights” and efforts to foreclose non-league parties from competing to collect and resell game-related data.

There are two sections of antitrust law under which the U.S. professional sports leagues have historically faced challenges. Section 1 of the Sherman Act, in pertinent part, states that “every contract, combination … or conspiracy, in the restraint of trade … is declared to be illegal.” Meanwhile, Section 2 of the Sherman Act states that “every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize …. shall be deemed guilty of a felony.”

The recent practices of Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association to centralize “ownership” of sports league data on the league (rather than team) level and then attempt to require their business partners to use only their data (and not data collected by any third party) raises novel legal questions under both sections of the Sherman Act.

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