Among topics we regularly discuss in this space are technology issues as they interface with the changing NFL as well as labor issues as they relate to the next collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiation. However, today’s edition of Sports Tech is the first time we’ve addressed the intersection of the two subjects.
Last week, we discussed the value of wearable tracking technology that emerged from the Alliance of American Football (AAF) league. We have since learned that the technology was owned by Legendary Field Exhibitions, which is operated by AAF co-founder Charlie Ebersol.
However, when MGM Resorts International became a major investor, the firm included a provision that would give MGM full ownership rights to the technology, as per this Action Network report. In addition to the technology, MGM also owns rights to the technology’s intellectual property, including trademarks, copyrights, patents, software and firmware.
This is a pretty big deal for a number of reasons. MGM is currently paying tens of millions of dollars to partner with the NBA, NHL and MLB. These deals also include access to data streams. According to Bloomberg, MGM customers will be able to bet on data-driven prop bets such as which NHL player skates the fastest during a game or rip the hardest slap shot as soon as next year. The technology acquired from the AAF deal could open a whole new world of in-game sports betting, including prop bets with odds based on data and analytics.
The rise of wearable technology and data applies to the NFL, as well, but there’s a twist. There is currently no agreement in place between the owners and players related to how this information is allowed to be recorded, stored, shared and used. When the last CBA deal was negotiated in 2011, this type of technology was still in its infancy, and hence, there were no rules or regulations in place. However, in 2018, all 32 NFL teams had access to in-game chip data technology, which provided a snapshot of every player’s location 12 times per second. NFL teams are allowed access to this chip data for use during contract negotiations. However, players do not, unless specifically granted by individual teams.
More importantly, players want to know where this data is being stored, who has access to it, how it may be used and what kind of safeguards are in place to protect this information. Does the NFL truly own this data? The league currently has business partnerships with data-driven technology companies such as Amazon, Sportradar AG and Zebra Technologies.
With access to such data, the NFL could also be in violation of privacy laws, not to mention data protection laws which vary from state to state. Wearable and chip data technology has created a booming new business, but where the legal line will be drawn remains to be seen.
Presumably, the NFLPA will want assurance that legal ramifications are covered, and will ask for ownership of the respective players’ results from new technology, or at least a fee for licensing the data. This could be a major focal point — perhaps even the major focal point — during the upcoming CBA negotiations. Will the Players Association be ready for such “techy” topics? Time will tell.