MAC Agreement With Genius Sports Creates Questions About Official Data Deals

MAC Agreement With Genius Sports Creates Questions About Official Data Deals article feature image

Nic Antaya/Getty Images. Pictured: The Mid-American Conference logo

The murky legal landscape of college athletics is getting even murkier as conferences get into bed with sports data providers.

Genius Sports will have exclusive marketing and distribution rights over the Mid-American Conference’s official data for the next five years, in a first-of-its-kind partnership announced Wednesday.  Such information includes player health metrics, shot tendencies and minute-by-minute statistics, which are typically sold to sports betting companies willing to pay top dollar to help better set their lines.

The NFL and other pro leagues have similar partnerships, but whether or not that information is a college conference’s to sell is unclear amid the rapidly changing terrain of athlete rights.

“The MAC wants to take the first deal of its kind and take the pay day. The question is whether that’s going to invite some type of legal challenge down the road as player rights continue to expand,” said Dan Lust, a lawyer at Geragos & Geragos and sports law professor at New York Law School. “Until there’s some type of union or entity formed to fight on the player’s behalf, maybe the MAC feels comfortable, but it's murky waters.”

With college athletes now legally entitled to ownership over use of their name, image and likeness in 28 states and the U.S. Supreme Court last year opening up to the to challenges on NCAA limitations to athlete pay, data deals could be the next battleground.

“Players could argue that player health metrics aren’t a conference’s to sell, that if they sell it, they’re profiting off of something the players should have control over,” Lust said.

The deals — likely tax-free under IRS rules for college partnerships — could be challenged under an intellectual property claim, as college athletes are the actual ones producing the data.

The MAC is comprised of 12 schools, each of which is located in a state that has or will soon have legal sports betting (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio).

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Genius Sports's website advertises its exclusive league data to sportsbooks as “everything you need for a winning operation.”

Some states like Michigan, Tennessee and Illinois mandate the inclusion of official league data in their sports betting laws, making it extremely valuable to  betting companies.

Genius Sports' contract with the NFL—worth potentially $1 billion—makes it the only place a  sportsbook can get real-time data to help set its lines on Sundays. The NFL’s U.S. sports betting partners (Caesars, DraftKings, FanDuel,FOX Bet, BetMGM, PointsBet, and WynnBETeach have partnerships with Genius Sports.

League-data exchanges essentially allow pro sports to get a bite of the sports betting apple. The concept dates all the way back to a 2018 league lobbying document, distributed three months before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the ban on sports betting legalization.

The NCAA has its own partnership with Genius Sports, although its limited to licensing scores to media companies and providing coaching insight to schools. The MAC deal marks the first time a conference has publicly signed on for the technology service, though it’s been available for schools to use since 2018.

Genius Sports declined to comment on whether or not the MAC deal permits it to sell college athlete data from the conference to sportsbooks. Regardless, already having a partnership in place positions Genius Sports to capitalize over competitors like Sportsadar should the NCAA's position change.

“This partnership will permit us to exert greater control of our statistics, provide increased oversight over events through the utilization of integrity services and provide support and financial benefits for the conference and its membership,” MAC commissioner Jon A. Steinbrecher said in a statement. “We have the responsibility to manage our assets and leverage those assets for the benefit of the student-athletes and our member institutions. The partnership with Genius Sports will assist us in those efforts.”

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