Hazards of sports reporting

Sport essentially provides the killer content to fill the multitude of media platforms from newspapers, television, internet sites and, increasingly, mobile phone devices. While access to such content was once taken for granted, we now see sports bodies imposing restrictions in an attempt to control the dissemination and reporting of the very content it produces.

The good news for sports bodies is that this is seen as a new, lucrative revenue stream. However, the bad news for reporters is it may now potentially be an unwanted restriction on their reporting abilities.

Traditional controls on access to stadia for broadcasting purposes have now been increasingly extended to ‘sports data’, namely the data, statistics, information and results that are attributable to the sports product itself. Indeed, sports data is now increasingly seen as an important element of the content package, as highlighted by the recent publicity surrounding Football Data Co, the joint venture company set up by the FA Premier League and the Football League.

Other sports bodies have also seen the opportunities for exploitation in this area and are reviewing their existing commercial programmes to identify ways in which they are able to ring fence sports data and generate new revenues.

Typically, the exploitation of sports data can be attributable to four factors:

lThe case of British Horseracing Board (BHB) v William Hill, which recognised that the BHB owned a database right in its pre-race data containing a list of all the runners and riders for forthcoming race meetings.

lThe existence of copyright protection in certain data and statistics compiled by sports rights holders such as fixtures and league tables.

lThe value of sports data to new media platforms and their drive to attract new subscribers.

l The impact of gambling and other interactive services on sport.

So where does that leave the ability of reporters to replicate statistics and report information? Let us return to Football Data Co to find an example of what measures have been taken in a particular sport. Rules and conditions of entry are now imposed on journalists entering various stadia hosting Premiership games and reporters are restricted on what information can be reported and at what time.

To give an example, a reporter attending a game rings up his office every time a team scores or when a major talking incident occurs. The information is then subsequently published on a website by one of his colleagues. These actions constitute a potential breach of licence by the reporter.

In reality, of course, this type of activity is particularly difficult to police. Nevertheless, the media must be careful that they are aware of the restrictions when entering the stadia to report on matches and that when sports data is used in articles that they are not infringing the existing copyright of the rights holder.

While the compliance process for each and every article would be both an onerous and commercially unviable practice, media companies who report on sport should consider introducing some form of periodic audit to ensure that the data it uses does not infringe any existing licences.

Different sports will have different policies for accessing their data and so the same principles may not apply across the board.

Fraser Reid is head of the sports group at Theodore Goddard

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