There’s an interesting lawsuit that seems like it would have some interesting connotations for many industries, including online games. Previous to 2000, anyone could make a game, publish a book or baseball cards or otherwise take advantage of the stats of a sport. Then fantasy football happened. Once that industry became a multimillion dollar industry, Major League Baseball started claiming that their stats were their own proprietary information, and that only fantasy baseball leagues that licensed from them could use them.
A small company in St Louis has sued MLB. They used to have a license that allowed them to use the stats, but when the ante got raised, they found themselves left out, unable to afford baseball’s high price. So they’re suing. Their claim is that stats are merely historical facts, which can be used freely.
The interesting thing is, as this analysis points out, that MLB may be trying to protect a dime and foregoing a buck.
“Fantasy leagues clearly were giving more to the leagues than they were getting in return,” said Kim Beason, a professor at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville who conducts market research for the Fantasy Sports Trade Assn. Now, all the major sports operate fantasy games, recognizing that players are incredibly loyal fans — the type increasingly coveted by advertisers.
The NFL, which has placed a renewed emphasis on courting fantasy players, “found that people who play fantasy football end up watching two to three hours more NFL action on television,” said Brian Rolapp, the league’s vice president of media strategy. “We’re all watching these weird games that no one else wants to watch,” [said one player].”Who else is going to watch the [Cleveland] Browns and [Baltimore] Ravens unless Jamal Lewis is on your fantasy team?”
Which is to say, fantasy sports creates an appetite for the real thing, and creates interest in games that players otherwise would have no interest in. If MLB is not careful, they could drive out people who play free- and cheap- fantasy baseball, solely in hopes of driving those people to more expensive services that MLB could potentially make a buck off of.
Is this likely to dissuade MLB from the lawsuit? Tragically, no. What is likely to make them settle the case with the company in question is that they’re likely to lose, which would result in them losing the ability to sell their stats. So don’t expect stats to become historical facts – at least, not until the NEXT lawsuit.
Edit: Reading over this, I realize I forgot to ask the pertinent question to this blog, which is, does this affect gaming, especially MMOs? Could an MMO site sue a fan site for posting stats? How about event recaps? What about something like Thottbot?