Sunday, January 15, 2006

Not a good fantasy

CNN.com has an article about the litigation between MLB and CBC, a stats processing company. The legal issue is whether stats are property, which MLB may control and license as it wishes, or facts, which are public domain to be used by anybody. If MLB wins, then the days of being able to run a roto league for free on yahoo may be over.

For those who don't know, I have taken a survey course on intellectual property law, as well as a specific course on copyright law, and another on trademark law. So I obviously can contribute a great deal on the merits of this lawsuit for both parties. I won't do that however, because I don't want to be accused of being pedantic. And by "accused of being pedantic," I really mean, "accused of having taken three courses on a subject and not knowing jack shit about any of it." I am familiar with a case that held that stats are facts. But I think that holding included something that said that the stat use couldn't deprive the league of an income stream to which they were entitled. So since MLB can and does run fantasy leagues themselves, this could come into play. But you know what? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the lawyers on both sides of this case are probably better versed in the case law than the guy whose information is based on overhearing stuff in class while refreshing ESPN.com and then cramming for a final three months later. I'm sorry; watching the Alito hearings has given me the urge to pontificate on the details of some legal doctrine. When I've been a federal judge for fifteen years then perhaps I'll actually be qualified to do so. For now, I should just stick to wisecracks about Chuck LaMar.

Anyway, if MLB wins this case (to be argued in the summer) and actually can stamp out other sites from operating roto leagues, that won't be good. I never took economics, but I think I heard something about it generally benefitting the consumer when one company doesn't have a monopoly. I guess they might license the rights to other sites, but there wouldn't be nearly as many options as we now have. Certainly the free stuff would be gone if the sites had to pay MLB to license the stats. That doesn't sound so great.

Well, there would be one free option. We'd just all have to go back to what they did in 1983 and do it all by hand. Wouldn't that be fun? I get pissed enough when stat tracker is running three minutes slow. "Awesome, Manny drove in two runs tonight. I look forward to seeing how this has affected my team in two weeks when the next score report arrives by mail." And imagine the commish who gets stuck tallying all that up. I'm commish in both my leagues, but I'll tell you this. I'd sooner sign up to be detained for ten years in a Chinese political prison than to have to account for all that each night.

Let's go CBC!

2 Comments:

Blogger Adam said...

This is a mistake for Baseball. It’s an example of the pendulum swinging too far. You know, there was a time when owners of baseball teams decided not to sell merchandise like hats or put their games on the radio, because they felt that it would take away some of the aura of traveling to the ballpark (and paying admission). They actually believed that if every kid in Brooklyn had a Dodgers hat, that that would somehow cheapen the privilege of the pro-ballplayer wearing it. Clearly they were wrong – today, merchandise sales and broadcasting contracts bring in the majority of MLB’s revenue.

Licensing the stats however – (a) officially declaring that they do not belong to the public domain, and (b) charging a licensing fee for their use – is a losing proposition for baseball. This time, it really will cause interest in the game to drop, but for the opposite reason. In the old days, owners were worried that making the games too accessible for fans would lower interest in the sport. Today, owners are trying to squeeze every last ounce of revenue from the fans’ desire for accessibility to the game. This is the reverse of making the games more available via broadcasting, and it will have the opposite effect. When you transmit the games into every living room, you create fans. When you make fantasy leagues available for free, available in every dorm room, bedroom, computer room, living room, and anywhere a laptop can travel – you create fans. How many fans draw their interest (or at least increased interest) in the game from fantasy leagues? How many of those same fans will be willing to pay to play? Some will pay, and MLB will derive some revenues from them. But, ultimately, the resulting attrition of their fan base will make it a Pyrrhic victory. Fewer fans playing fantasy baseball will probably mean fewer fans buying merchandise, games tickets, and broadcast products such as the Extra Innings package. It means shrinking the fan base instead of growing it, and that will backfire.

2:29 AM  
Blogger The Fades said...

adam, your post is long, but the first sentence seems interesting...as for me- i did fantasy stats for the wrestling roto league by hand, and people just thought i was cheating. But really, "Big show" just had an amazing "season" that year, and took my "team" to an easy first place finish.

11:18 AM  

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