Wow. It’s actually possible that the Supreme Court will actually hear a case to decide if for-profit fantasy sports companies can use the names and statistics of Major League Baseball players.
The League says that using the players’ stats violates their publicity rights. And they clearly don’t get it. I’d love to see the statistics on how much fantasy baseball has actually strengthened interest in baseball, from the majors through the minors. Millions of people pay attention to players outside their hometowns because of an interest in fantasy. Millions more pay attention to the minor leagues because they are future fantasy phenoms. These fantasy players buy MLB merchandise, including the league’s full MLB TV package, so they can do this. And the league thinks the best thing to do is try to shut down the services.
There’s also a First Amendment issue at play here. The case goes back to deals that MLB cut for “official” fantasy games. A smaller company that was dumped by the MLB deal sued and won. So baseball is appealing.
“Celebrities and athletes have enforceable publicity rights,” they
argued, and the First Amendment has never been understood to give other
companies a right “to exploit players’ identities for commercial gain.”
Nice thought. But to say that MLB owns the statistics of its games to the point where they are not public information is a huge leap that could open the door to a lot more onerous restrictions.
If I’m Major League Baseball, I embrace the idea of fantasy sports. Buy out a major fantasy provider, and expand your reach into other sports, never mind just MLB. You have already done a fantastic (and annoying job) of controlling your video – come up with a better way of categorizing and set up the ultimate fantasy resource for MLB. Make it affordable and use it to control the buzz over your own sport. Win by beating the others at the game. Otherwise, the bunker mentality that led to serious damage for “old media” companies and the music industry may yet bite the sports leagues in the backside.