Notebook > Sports

Stat spat

Sports | Fantasy leaguers gain access to players' data-for now

Issue: "Katrina: One year later," Aug. 26, 2006

Who owns Curt Schilling's ERA or Derek Jeter's batting average? No one, according to Missouri district court judge Mary Ann L. Medler, who ruled on Aug. 8 that the publishing of players' names and statistics is protected speech. The decision holds profound implications for fantasy sports leagues and videogame producers, both of which depend on access to such information.

The court concluded that CBC Distribution and Marketing, also known as CDM Fantasy Sports, prints no more material than a newspaper and deserves the same First Amendment protection. It further held that CBC needs no official license for a commercial enterprise that provides publicity and ultimate benefit to the sport of baseball.

The lawsuit originated when the Major League Baseball Players Association began denying firms like CBC licenses to use its members' names and statistics. CBC sued, arguing that such data is part of the public domain. But the players union, which in 2005 sold five years of exclusive fantasy sports rights to the operators of MLB.com for $50 million, argued that unauthorized use violates the "right of publicity." The term comes from a 1953 precedent that blocks companies from financially exploiting athletes' identities without permission.

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Judge Medler evaded that precedent, writing that the use of "baseball players' names and playing records in fantasy baseball games does not go to the heart of a player's ability to earn a living." She also found that fantasy sports "actually enhances the marketability of the players."

Since the ruling, the marketing arm of the National Football League Players Association has stepped up to buoy an appeal effort. At stake is the ability of players unions to strike exclusive multimillion-dollar deals with such powerhouse companies as Disney, Yahoo!, and CBS. Fantasy sports generates industry-wide revenue between $150 million and $200 million, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, providing all the incentive needed for a drawn-out legal contest-likely with a few extra innings.

Around the Horn

FOOTBALL: Every year, coaches, players, and reporters revisit the same question: Are the NFL's four preseason games more harmful than helpful? Redskins fans had their answer by the end of the first game's opening quarter when running back Clinton Portis and linebacker Chris Clemons suffered injuries that could hurt the team's playoff chances. It got worse for the Redskins in the second quarter when rookie rusher Kerry Carter ended his season with a knee injury. Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey recently called the exhibition schedule a "debacle," and his teammate Tiki Barber said that besides some hitting practice and talent evaluation, the preseason "serves no other purpose than to get you hurt." So why does the NFL continue exhibition games? Consider the gravy: The Raiders-Eagles Hall of Fame game Aug. 6 drew about 7 million television viewers.

GOLF: Several European players recently considered pulling out of the PGA Championship to attend the funeral of golfer Darren Clarke's wife Heather, who had lost a long fight with cancer. Only Paul McGinley, a player on the bubble for a Ryder Cup spot, finally elected to skip the year's fourth major. "Some things," he said, "are more important than the Ryder Cup."

BASKETBALL: Team USA has a lot to prove at this year's World Championships in Japan, its first international competition since taking a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympic Games. But the only thing the dream team proved in a 90-86 exhibition victory over Brazil Aug. 8 was its need to wake up or suffer another nightmare.

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