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Baseball’s Fantasy World Meets Reality

It turns out that Major League Baseball doesn’t have a monopoly on everything. A federal court judge yesterday ruled that companies who run fantasy leagues don’t have to pay MLB to use players’ names and statistics.

It turns out that Major League Baseball doesn’t have a monopoly on everything.
A federal court judge yesterday ruled that companies who run fantasy leagues don’t have to pay MLB to use players’ names and statistics.

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Earlier this year, St. Louis-based CBC Distribution and Marketing Inc., a company that runs a fantasy sports league, sued MLB, arguing that the names of players and their statistics–like runs, hits, and errors–should be available for free. MLB, which has made a pretty penny licensing those stats to companies like ESPN and Yahoo, who run their own fantasy sports leagues, argued that those stats are the “product,” of baseball, and owns the rights to distribute them as they see fit.

The judgment, which MLB said it would appeal, has a potentially huge impact on the fantasy sports industry, which one oft-quoted estimate from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association puts at 15 million players and $1.5 billion annually.

(Have a lot of free time on your hands? Here’s the official decision.)

Of course, this issue only came up when MLB’s Internet arm bought the rights to use the statistics, and then took its proverbial ball and went home, reducing the number of licenses to 7 from 19 last year, effectively keeping other, smaller fantasy leagues from playing (like CBC).

If this ruling stands, though, what had been making money for MLB (which, if you read the highly entertaining “Spalding’s World Tour” by Mark Lamster or the somewhat drier, but equally interesting National Pastime: How Americans Play Baseball and the Rest of the World Plays Soccer” by Stefan Szymanski and Andrew Zimbalist you’ll see how they try to squeeze money wherever possible) could come to an end, because why should the Yahoos or the world pay when the CBC’s don’t? It once again shows that, if you get too greedy, you just might end up losing everything.

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