Baseball Suing Fantasy Leagues over Stats Use

Major League Baseball is suing for a piece of the fantasy baseball pie.

The dispute is between a company in St. Louis that operates fantasy sports leagues over the Internet and the Internet arm of Major League Baseball, which says that anyone using players’ names and performance statistics to operate a fantasy league commercially must purchase a license. The St. Louis company counters that it does not need a license because the players are public figures whose statistics are in the public domain.

According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, more than 15 million people spend about $1.5 billion annually to play fantasy sports, virtually all of them using an outside service to keep track of rosters, players’ statistics, trades and more. Most participate through Web sites run by CBS SportsLine, Yahoo and ESPN, which have paid Major League Baseball Advanced Media approximately $2 million apiece this year for licenses to display players’ names and photographs, team logos and varying add-ons like video highlight clips.

The St. Louis company, CBC Distribution and Marketing Inc., operates through the Web site CDMsports.com. It runs its customers’ leagues without player photographs (which are controlled by players in nonjournalistic commerce) or team logos (which are trademarks owned by the major league clubs). Like those of many smaller operators, the St. Louis company’s games present only players’ names and seasonal statistics, which the company says are newsworthy facts whose publication is protected by the First Amendment. “We’re disseminating information to the public about baseball players no different than what a newspaper does,” said Rudy Telscher, a lawyer representing CBC. “The American populace, at least a significant portion of it, has a fascination with baseball, they have a fascination with following the statistics, and I think the popularity of fantasy sports is borne right out of that passion for tracking the game and the statistics.”

Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which purchased the players’ Internet and wireless rights from the players union in January 2005 for $50 million over five years, contends that the players’ identities are being exploited in a business venture distinct from conventional journalism. “What a company like CBC is selling is not nearly a repackaging of statistics,” said Lee Goldsmith, a lawyer for Major League Baseball Advanced Media. “They’re selling and they’re marketing the ability to buy, sell, draft and cut Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols. And part and parcel of the reason that people are willing to pay for that ability is the persona of Jeter, of Rodriguez, of Pujols.”

While MLB has a legitimate legal case here, this is just another instance of sheer stupidity on the part of the league in managing fan relations. Fantasy sports, and fantasy baseball in particular, contribute to the popularity of the sport. Baseball, in particular, needs all the help it can get in this regard. Not only is the plague of steroids undermining the integrity of the numbers that make the game connect with a past in a way no other sport can, but the slow play over a 162 game regular season is a hard sell in a broadband world.

My own interest in the game has diminished in the last couple of years, after having moved to the D.C. area from the Deep South. Part of that is a loss of local connection to the team I follow, the Atlanta Braves. Partly, too, married life is not conducive to watching 162 games. Mostly, though, I’ve lost interest because the idiots at MLB decided to treat TBS as a national network whereas the Yankees’ and Mets’ networks are treated as local. The result is that the Braves’ ownership moved most of the games to regional networks unavailable to me. The SuperStation made the Braves a national team; MLB made them local again.

OTB Sports

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Sports,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Baseball suing fantasy leagues over stats useMajor League Baseball is suing for a piece of the fantasy baseball pie. The dispute is between a company in St. Louis that operates fantasy sports leagues over the Internet and the Internet arm of Major League Baseball, which says that anyone using.

  2. Baseball suing fantasy leagues over stats useMajor League Baseball is suing for a piece of the fantasy baseball pie. The dispute is between a company in St. Louis that operates fantasy sports leagues over the Internet and the Internet arm of Major League Baseball, which says that anyone using.

  3. NOTE: My spam filter automatically deletes any TrackBacks that do not actually link and refer to this post. Those doing it manually should ensure they have linked the post before sending the TrackBack ping. I want to stand in Iran and see a mushroomBaseball Suing Fantasy Leagues over Stats Use Outside Beltway – Major League Baseball is suing for a piece of the fantasy baseball pie . The dispute is between a company in St. Louis that operates fantasy sports leagues over the Internet and the Internet arm of Major League Baseball, which says

  4. […] OTB […]

  5. Bhoe says:

    Baseball, in particular, needs all the help it can get in this regard. Not only is the plague of steroids undermining the integrity of the numbers that make the game connect with a past in a way no other sport can, but the slow play over a 162 game regular season is a hard sell in a broadband world.

    I am not sure what you are basing this on.

    Professional sports are a business and, according to Forbes, average MLB team values have increased 15% for the second consecutive year.

    Compare that to American football which only rose 12% last year and the NBA which only rose 9%.

    Of course, no franchise in the world compares to Manchester United, valued at $1.3 billion.

    I think your experience, James, might be more attributible to the fact that you follow the Braves and they have been one of the few franchises to actually lose valuation. This is a problem with the Braves–not with the league as a whole.

  6. David Harris says:

    Bhoe, you might have some figures to show otherwise, but I’m fairly confident that in the time that James and I have followed the Braves they have actually increased in value. I think James was referring to baseball’s need to grab the casual fan, who is less likely to watch a 3.5 hour game 6 nights a week than a fast-paced 2 hour football or basketball game. That need is compromised when baseball gives the appearance that it is out of touch with its fans, as seems to be the case here.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Bhoe,

    I’m not sure that the selling price of franchises is an indication of much of anything other than the scarcity of the resource. Plus, you have phenomena like the virtually worthless Montreal Expos moving to DC and selling for $700 million because buying a big league sports franchise is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

  8. Alan says:

    While MLB has a legitimate legal case here…

    On what basis do you claim they have a legitimate legal case? Based on the case law (if so, what case law?), or based on your own personal sense of what is fair?

  9. James Joyner says:

    Alan: Both. The linked article contains substantial background. It’s not a slam dunk but there is plenty of precedent for the league and Players’ Association owning various trademarks employed by these businesses.

  10. Jazz says:

    Every time a major sports league takes yet another step to alienate the fans and remove any vestige of “fun” from the sport which they are funding (either directly through ticket and merchandise sales or indirectly through viewership of television stations carrying the games and the ad revenue that generates) they drive another nail in their own coffin. James is correct in saying that the league almost certainly has a sound *legal* case on their side, but it is insane to chase those few dollars at the expense of alienating what diminishing die-hard fans they have left who are willing to fund the venture.

    In the end, it’s all about the fans, and owners and atheletes need to remember that. Without the fans, the sport goes back to somebody’s back yard.

  11. ICallMasICM says:

    Didn’t MLB set an all time attendance record last year? I believe that the Red Sox have sold out every game for the last 4 years and will do so again for the foreseeable future. You’re just crying because the Braves don’t have any bullpen.

  12. James Joyner says:

    Jack: The population is growing rapidly, including a large Hispanic explosion with a cultural affinity to baseball. Plus, the move of the Expos to DC had a huge payoff. Still, baseball is not a sport followed by young people in the way that it used to be and football still is.

    As to the Braves, they’re still competitive. I’m not mad at the team and still try to follow them, including getting out to some games when they visit the Nats. The problem is that they went from something like 125 games a year on TBS to something like 50. That takes non-regional fans out of the natural rhythm of the game. And I don’t blame the Braves’ owners for doing that, as it’s the only way to put the money back into payroll under the current system.

  13. Alan says:

    It looks like MLB does have an arguable legal case, but it makes me wonder…: There was once a time (generations ago) when anyone was free to express or make use of a fact or idea. Then along came “intellectual property”, and we declared that certain people had exclusive rights to certain facts and ideas. In wonder if we have gone too far…

  14. ICallMasICM says:

    I agree that baseball isn’t followed the same way it was when we were kids and certainly not the way it was from my Dad’s generation but nonetheless attendance is up both in the majors and the minors. I’m just busting on you about the Braves but I don’t think they’ve got enough pitching to catch the Mets and Phillies. However after watching the Red Sox pound the Orioles for the 7th time this year Leo Mazzone must not be the magical wizard I thought he was.

  15. MLB on drugs of their own?…

    As a fantasy sports junkie (I’m in four different fantasy baseball leagues), I find this move ill-advised.

    James Joyner:

    While MLB has a legitimate legal case here, this is just another instance of sheer stupidity on the part of the league ….

  16. James Joyner says:

    Could be on the Braves. Leo is an excellent pitching coach but, let’s face it, he had some extraordinary pitchers over the years. The Braves have done it the right way over the years–as an organization. Even in the days when they had the financial wherewithal to add the occasional Fred McGriff to help them catch up, they had a great farm system to enable them to trade talent without getting rid of their best prospects.

  17. Bhoe says:

    Bhoe, you might have some figures to show otherwise, but I�m fairly confident that in the time that James and I have followed the Braves they have actually increased in value.

    Dave, Let me clarify. All of the data is from Forbes. I was initially referring to the period between 2003-2004, where their value went from $423 mil to $374 mil. I just found more recent figures: 2005=$382. 2006=$405. SO they are on an upward swing in terms of valuation, but they still havent hit 2002 levels.

    http://www.forbes.com/2006/04/17/06mlb_baseball_valuations_charts.html?index=12

    I�m not sure that the selling price of franchises is an indication of much of anything other than the scarcity of the resource.

    James, I wasn’t talking about selling price. Forbes estimates each franchise’s value (in various professional sports) each year for their ranking. They are only estimates, but I think the folks at Forbes have pretty fair–they use the team’s earnings, debt and stadium deals to determine their valuation rankings.

    http://www.forbes.com/2006/04/17/06mlb_baseball_valuations_land.html

  18. Bhoe says:

    Didn�t MLB set an all time attendance record last year?

    Yes. Last year the total attendance was 74,915,268.

    2004: 72,968,953
    2003: 67,630,052

    Baseball is doing great, money-wise and attendance-wise.

    I will also argue that it is much more exciting now with the recent emphasis on “small ball” and pitching ala the World Champion White Sox.

    As soon as Bonds is sent out to pasture, the game will rebound even more.

  19. […] UPDATE: “While MLB has a legitimate legal case here, this is just another instance of sheer stupidity on the part of the league in managing fan relations.” […]