Should Yahoo Have to Pay the NFL Union for Fantasy Football Stats?

Erik Linask : Sports Technology
Erik Linask

Should Yahoo Have to Pay the NFL Union for Fantasy Football Stats?

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In one of the weirder sports technology stories to cross the wire in a while, the National Football League's players union reportedly is being sued by search engine Yahoo Inc. because the popular Web site doesn't believe it should pay royalties to use data such as players' stats and photos for online fantasy football.
Steve Karnowski of that venerable news service - The Associated Press - tells us that the last of Yahoo's licensing agreements with the NFL Players Association expired three months ago, and the players union is threatening to sue Yahoo if the company doesn't pay for the information.
Where to start?
First off, I would love to see a cost-benefit analysis here: How much has Yahoo paid in the past for those rights, and how much interest does Yahoo-hosted fantasy football generate in the game.
I'd also love to know how long the licensing agreement was in place - especially since fantasy sports have grown exponentially in the past few years, and promise to continue growing as players (fantasy owners, that is) have greater access to the Internet through smartphones, netbooks and other popular, portable Web-ready devices.
Yahoo could not immediately be reached for comment, but you can bet I'll post on this issue again when I hear back from them.
Yahoo's argument is that it doesn't need authorization to use the information on NFL players, and it's probably preparing to cite a court decision that settled a suit two months ago between the NFL Players Inc. and CBS Interactive Inc.
In its argument, Yahoo may also be able to appear to what's called "net neutrality" - the idea that the Internet and its contents are part of the public domain. That's a divisive issue, and one that the rapidly forming Federal Communications Commission grapples with.
Another recent example of that arose recently when eBay-owned Internet calling service Skype launched its iPhone application. The iPhone, from Apple, is carried only by AT&T, and a group called Free Press - a nonprofit with offices in Florence, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. - asked the FCC to look into whether whether the two companies are breaking federal rules by effectively disallowing widespread use of the service on the iPhone. The "Skype for iPhone" service uses WiFi connections - not a regular cell phone network or 3G high-speed network - to place calls.
That complaint at least makes some sense.
But this thing from the NFL players' union is different. It's true that fantasy football is a big industry. According to the AP, about 13 million to 15 million people play fantasy football games, an industry that grosses more than $1 billion a year.
Yahoo's lawsuit reportedly seeks to ban NFL Players Inc. from interfering with its fantasy sports businesses, "from threatening litigation, or making any statements that Yahoo or its customers are infringing the rights of NFL Players Inc.," the AP reports.
Stay tuned for developments.

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1 Comment

This is the 3rd lawsuit in two years. The first was CDM Sports vs. MLBPA which CDM won creating a precedence that player names and stats are public data that can be used by anyone (can you imagine newspapers having to pay licensing to list box scores in their sports sections?).

After this case, CBS Sports sued the NFLPA for charging them to use this info and won last month. And now Yahoo is following suit.

Being a fantasy site company - Fantazzle Fantasy Sports Games - I know how insane this is. All of these major sports leagues know how much fantasy sports has benefited and grown their fan base in the past 10 years and yet they still want the monopoly...

Interesting to note that the first lawsuit was due to MLBPA sending cease and desist to fantasy sites and threatening legal actions. If those letters weren't sent, these leagues may have continued to receive licensing fees even though they never should have in the first place.

Ryan Parr

Fantazzle Fantasy Sports