Features 26 April 2018

Tennis report reveals restricting sale of match data could be key to integrity

The Tennis Integrity Review Panel (TIRP) Report, published yesterday (PDF below) highlights that restricting the sale of live data at lower levels matches could be key to preserving the integrity of sport. In raising this issue, the TIRP Report has highlighted a major concern that has been bubbling under the surface for some time. Sporting organisations sign integrity partnerships due to concerns about protecting the integrity of their competitions but, it would appear that offers of money in return for the right to commercialise their data can be an additional pull.

In simple terms, in order to offer live – or ‘in-play’ – bets on any sport, gambling operators need accurate data on what takes place in a match. If there is no live data from a match, operators are reluctant to offer ‘in-play’ bets, due to obvious integrity concerns.

However, the collection of such live data from lower level or amateur sport can create an additional integrity risk. This risk is especially pertinent in individual sports such as tennis, found by the TIRP Report. ‘Only the top 250 to 350 players earn enough money to break even’, reads the TIRP Report. ‘Yet there are nominally 15,000 or so ‘professional’ players. The imbalance between prize money and the cost of competing places players in an invidious position by tempting them to contrive matches for financial reward.’ In such circumstances, it is not hard to see how criminals could convince a player to double fault during a match.

Under most integrity partnerships, the integrity organisation will send data scouts to matches to record data, such as service breaks in tennis, wides in cricket or offsides in football. While the recording of this data helps in being able to track and monitor any integrity threats, it is also often also sold to gambling operators so that they can offer ‘in-play’ odds on those matches as part of such partnerships.

In May 2012, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) selected Sportradar as its worldwide distributor for ITF official data. The TIRP Report reveals that the December 2015 contract extension from 2017 to 2021 was worth US$70 million to tennis. ‘The ITF and Sportradar will begin to cooperate in 2012 to assure the supply of live data from selected ITF tournaments to media outlets, the betting industry and any other interested parties’, read a 2012 statement outlining the original deal. ‘The agreement will also allow the ITF to expand the range of its events offering live scoring services’.

The reason that the deal is worth so much money is that enables Sportradar to sell live tennis data from over 50,000 matches per year (2014 figures) to gambling operators and media companies. The company’s subsidiary, Betradar, states that the partnership enabled the ‘Monetisation of ITF live data to Sportradar’s media and betting business’.

‘Before agreeing to sell its live scoring data, and again before its recent renewal of that agreement, the ITF did not appropriately assess the potential adverse effects of those agreements on betting-related integrity in tennis and weigh those potential adverse effects against the benefits of the data sales, nor did it put in place appropriate controls to protect integrity’, reads the TIRP Report. ‘The growth in coverage at the ITF level following the data deal in 2012 is clear. In 2013, the year after the first ITF-Sportradar contract, 40,000 matches at ITF Men’s Futures and Women’s $15k and $25k events were made available to the betting market. By 2016, that number had increased to over 60,000 matches. The number of alerts received by the TIU has also greatly increased over this period, from 15 alerts being received in 2013, to 240 and 185 alerts being received in 2016 and 2017, respectively. In the Panel’s assessment there is a strong causal connection between the sale of official live scoring data to the lowest levels and the growth in betting on matches at those levels.’

Sportradar has agreed integrity partnerships with a number of sporting organisations, and its Betradar subsidiary advertises data partnerships with 21 different sports, including darts, bowls, snooker and squash – all of which are ‘single player’ sports in a similar manner to tennis. Sportradar is not alone in doing this. Its major rival, Genius Sports, also offers similar data commercialisation services.

Real Time Sportscast is a Betradar brand

It has also been alleged that Sportradar uses University Students to collect data from low level basketball and football games in Australia through Real Time Sportscast (RTS), a Betradar brand. Players in Tasmania’s Southern Basketball League were, perhaps fortunately, unaware that live betting odds were being offered on matches they were competing in. Students in Scotland have also been targeted by RTS job offers to collect data from football games in Scotland. It could be argued that using students as data scouts compounds the integrity risk created in collecting data from lower league matches.

The TIRP Report recommends that to reduce the integrity threat to tennis, the sale of live scoring data on the ITF’s US$15k and $25k Professional Circuit events should be halted. In 2016, the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) confirmed it had disqualified two umpires for delaying the reporting of points on the ITF Futures tournament. As part of the Sportradar deal, umpires are supposed to immediately update scores.

Sportradar argues that if it didn’t collect such data from the lower levels of sport, somebody else would, creating a greater integrity threat. ‘Prohibition simply doesn’t work’, wrote a Sportradar spokesperson in an email. ‘Prohibiting data partnerships will not stop betting, live or otherwise, on these matches nor will it remove corruption risk at this level. Pre-match betting will remain available; unofficial data will be collected; generally available match statistics can be used by betting operators anyway; the risk of data fraud and ghost matches will increase; and there will be no clear contractual basis by which operators will be bound to reporting and transparency requirements. This will almost certainly encourage black market activity.’

This viewpoint is disputed in the TIRP Report. ‘There is insufficient reliable evidence to conclude that if official live scoring data were not available, betting markets on a large number of ITF matches would definitely be created in a way that could not be effectively deterred’, it reads.

Sportradar, which has a data partnership with the ITF until 2021, labelled a ban on the sale of live data as unrealistic. ‘On face value, this looks to be unrealistic, potentially unlawful and we would have serious reservations about the credibility of such a Recommendation’, continued the spokesperson.

‘The Panel considers that the maintenance of the status quo in relation to the number of matches available for betting would be disastrous for tennis’, argues the TIRP Report. ‘The Panel considers, pending consultation, that significant restrictions should be introduced. The Panel recognises that these proposals would have an adverse impact on the ITF’s revenues, a substantial part of which is reinvested in promoting tennis at what is essentially a developmental level of the game. The Panel therefore proposes that the other International Governing Bodies should contribute greater funds to assist the ITF’s critical function of developing the next generation of professional tennis players.’

The TIRP Report also recommends that the TIU be empowered to disrupt betting based on unofficial live data at the ITF $15k and $25k Pro Circuit level. A TIU official told the TIRP that lower level tennis faced a ‘tsunami’ of integrity breaches. In presenting the report, Adam Lewis QC said that the TIU had been overwhelmed since tennis had decided to sell its live scoring data, and faced a backlog of cases and interviews, which had led to the impression that it had covered up integrity breach cases. ‘The Panel has not discovered any evidence demonstrating a ‘cover up’ in relation to these issues, by the International Governing Bodies, the TIU, or anyone else’, the Report clarifies.

The TIRP Report also recommends that the TIU impose ‘targeted restrictions’ on the sale of official live scoring data in ‘particular circumstances’ at all levels of the sport. It later clarifies that this could include prohibitions on the sale of data to certain betting operators, or for certain events. It recommends that a requirement to video all matches in which live data is sold should be mandatory.

In addition, it recommends that contractual obligations should be placed on betting operators and data supply companies as a condition to the supply of official live scoring data. This should include a requirement for the company to:

• Not make, or facilitate the making of, betting markets for tennis events or matches for which official data is not being sold;
• Not make, or facilitate the making of markets for tennis events that the TIU orders should not be made; and
• Not resell any official data on to anyone else.

Other recommendations

Adam Lewis QC said the location of the TIU in the same premises as the ITF created the impression that it lacks independence…

As mentioned above, the TIRP Report found that the Tennis Integrity Unit had been unable to cope with the rise in integrity issues since the ITF decided to sell the rights to its live scoring data in 2012. As such, it recommends that the TIU should be reorganised with an independent supervisory board. In presenting the TIRP Report, Adam Lewis QC said that the location of the TIU in the same building as the ITF in Roehampton (London) created the impression that it lacked independence.

The TIRP also makes a number of key recommendations regarding mandatory education on integrity issues, as well as changes in the sanctioning rules. In a controversial move, it also recommends that the ban on sponsorship by gambling operators that is applicable to players should be extended to tournaments.

Data is key

Control of data is key to the sports betting market. In order to offer odds, accurate information is needed on the progress of a match, and Sportradar is right to highlight that if it doesn’t provide this information, then somebody else will. However, the mass sale of all such data at the lower levels of sport – particularly in amateur sport – also creates an integrity risk that sport does not have the power or the resources to police. The TIRP is also right to point out that such mass commercialisation might never have happened, had it not been for the Sportradar deal.

The TIRP Report highlights sport’s increasing loss of control over how its data is used. It is easy to see why sport might hand over the commercial rights to its data for a wad of cash. It would appear that often, who that data is sold on to, through which third parties, is a secondary concern. In short, sport does not have the resources to track and record how its data is used. Even if that data is tracked and monitored by the integrity partner, there is a risk that such data could be illegally utilised by third parties to offer odds on matches. And, as previous match-fixing cases illustrate, it is much easier to corrupt a player at the lower levels of sport than it is to corrupt a professional.

The TIRP Report recommends that tennis’ governing bodies should ensure that the TIU and players are better financed. It does not appear to consider that the companies or gambling operators that use its live data should pay to police the integrity concerns created by such their commercialisation of tennis’ data. Such an arrangement might be considered to be in the interests of both parties.

• The supporting evidence to the TIRP Interim Report is available to download by clicking here. The Interim Report and the accompanying evidence are considered as a consultation, and interested parties can provide submissions to Jonathan Ellis at tennisirp@northridgelaw.com. The Final Report will consider the findings of the Interim Report, as well as any relevant submissions, and will be published in due course.


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