First Ever Sports Data Partnership with NCAA-Affiliated Conference
On March 9, 2022, Dr. Jon Steinbrecher, the Commissioner of the Mid-American Conference (“MAC”), announced a statistical data partnership and sponsorship deal with Genius Sports. As part of the five-year agreement, the MAC is licensing its statistical data rights to Genius Sports, creating a single source to manage and market the data for the conference. Further, for sustainability and integrity, Genius Sports will require companies to pay for access to the MAC’s data. In turn, this multi-layered process will help generate funding for the conference and fewer outward influences on players and staff to potentially interfere with game conditions. Id. The agreement appears to be the first of its kind in the NCAA and demonstrates the direction that college athletics are going concerning data and the rights to access certain data.
Agreement with Genius Sports
Under the agreement, Genius Sports will be tasked with managing and marketing the league’s game data while providing integrity services for sports betting activities. Id. Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, which ruled that the federal ban on state-sanctioned gambling was unconstitutional, both professional and collegiate sports gambling has gained much traction in the sports industry. While Dr. Steinbrecher made it clear that this agreement “isn’t about promoting gambling or sports wagering,” rather, “it’s about [the MAC] taking back control of [their] statistical data[.]” Further, Dr. Steinbrecher demonstrated the conference’s forward-thinking by explaining that this agreement is also intended to leverage its statistical data assets for the benefit of their college athletes and institutions. Id.
Genius Sports is an established leader in delivering data and integrity programs. Headquartered out of the UK, it has partnered with over 400 sports organizations globally, including the NFL, NASCAR, and the PGA. Id.
The Mid-American Conference was founded in 1946 and has 12 full-time members. Its current members include The University of Akron (Ohio), Ball State University (Indiana), Bowling Green State University (Ohio), University at Buffalo (New York), Central Michigan University (Michigan), Eastern Michigan University (Michigan), Kent State University (Ohio), Miami University (Ohio), Northern Illinois University (Illinois), Ohio University (Ohio), University of Toledo (Ohio), and Western Michigan University (Michigan). In sum, that includes 5 states (Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, New York, and Illinois). Each of these five states has legalized sports gambling.
The Future of Conference Specific Data Rights
Although the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) does not explicitly permit gambling, Genius Sports and the NCAA have an agreement pursuant to which Genius Sports simply manages the real-time data for the NCAA; however, Genius Sports cannot sell such data to wagering or non-wagering entities. Id. The NCAA itself has not authorized any entity to provide its statistical data to any sportsbook. Id.
The move by the MAC comes months before the new NCAA Constitution comes into effect (August 1, 2022). Under the new constitution, the NCAA awards power to its institutions and conferences to interpret the role of athletics, and thus reasonably implement regulations that govern their own conferences. Combine the decentralized future of college athletics with the growth of sports-betting, and it appears that the agreement between the MAC and Genius Sports may serve as an initial template for other conferences to work from. Conferences will be inclined to leverage their sports data as assets. Specifically, conferences can establish consistent revenue streams for their institutions and perhaps even their college athletes. In sum, the MAC appears to be taking an anticipatory approach to both the decentralized structure of college athletics and the conference’s role in the sports data industry. Look for more conferences to follow the MAC’s lead.