Ladies and gentlemen, presenting a scene inside the gold mine:
Every weekend during soccer season in Britain, security personnel find them in stadiums, tapping furiously at their phones or talking nonstop into a mic — mysterious customers often wearing hoodies to conceal earpieces and their identity. While focused with unwavering intensity on the action of the game, they show none of the engagement and excitement of the ordinary fans around them.
The unofficial data scouts — or data thieves, depending on who is describing them — are quickly ejected once they are discovered.
The fleeting data they are collecting — the minutia of what is happening in the game — is the lifeblood of sports betting, perhaps the most crucial and valuable element of the entire industry. If gambling operators are to monetize sports betting fully, they have to offer wagers on far more than the outcomes of games. Data on the second-by-second action — exactly when a goal is scored, where it landed in the net, who had the assist — creates manifold betting opportunities.
In Britain, this so-called in-play betting market is robust. In the United States, it may be the greatest hope for betting operators after the Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on sports betting and as states scramble to accept wagers. That means accurate and reliable data must get to betting operators like casinos, websites and phone apps fast, usually in a second or two — well ahead of the roughly five-to-10-second delay baked into television broadcasts.
“For betting, it’s the difference between having value and having no value at all,” Steven Burton, a veteran lawyer in the rarefied field of collecting, using and protecting sports data, said about the necessity of rapid data distribution.
The sudden premium on sports data is likely to set up an array of conflicts in the betting industry that have been mostly unknown in the United States. Adrian Ford, general manager of Football DataCo, the official handler of data for the English Premier League and others in Britain, said that in dozens of stadiums each weekend, the hooded scouts show up for companies aiming to collect the data and sell it to betting operators without buying rights to the league-approved stream originating in the press box.
“It goes to the heart of this issue, the data debate,” Mr. Ford said. “Clearly the data from the source, a stadium, it’s valuable. Some people believe it’s appropriate to cheat.”
First of all, “a veteran lawyer in the rarefied field of collecting, using and protecting sports data”? How come I didn’t hear about that in law school? But I digress.
When you hear value, that means money. Duh. If your average university president currently has no clue about rapid sports data distribution today, that’s a condition you can bet your bottom dollar (see what I did there?) that’s a situation every conference commissioner will soon remedy.
That, in turn, is going to make for some interesting choices down the road. If schools have a proprietary interest in data collection, what steps will they take to clamp down on cheaters? For one thing, I suspect free stadium Wi-Fi will become perceived as a bug, not a feature. Too bad for those who choose to use it innocently; it’s for the greater good, you know.