Red Card: Footballers are Taking Their Performance Data and are Going Home

October 23, 2021

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2 min read

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What's going on here?

Footballers are preparing to take legal action against companies using their personal performance data.

What does this mean?

Many top football clubs in Europe such as Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City have implemented specialist departments that use performance data analysts to assess the performance of players. The importance of data collection to football clubs sets the scene for the multi-billion-pound data collection industry. Third party companies in the sport data, gaming and the betting industry all trade based on football club performance data.

However, more than 850 professional footballers have sent letters to 17 firms alleging data misuse and putting these companies on notice that court proceedings may follow. “Project Red Card”, is spearheaded by former Cardiff City manager Russell Slade. The legal team asserts third party companies are in breach of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules reinforced in 2018, as players have not been compensated for the unlicensed use of their personal data. Players are claiming loss of income over the past six years, as stipulated by statutory limitations, and an annual fee from companies for any future use.

What's the big picture effect?

One of the main legal issues will be around who owns the data. Although consent is already required from leagues, a successful action may require consent directly from professional athletes when it comes to companies profiting from their data.

How would athletes then control their data? A possible way of doing so is to create a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) framework for licensing to third parties, as is present in the telecommunications industry. This framework can create a fair balance of interests, giving the athlete the power to benefit from exploiting their data on a commercial basis, while legitimising use by a third party. This of course will come with its own regulatory issues, for example, when determining rates at which to license data, but artificial intelligence can grant accuracy and transparency in calculating rates, allowing this to remain a viable avenue worth exploring.

Yet, in the event players can also prevent exploitation based on ownership, is this wise given the nature of the industry? Is it wise to try to limit fans’ easy access to statistical data that keep athletes relevant in sport? Dave Edwards, former Wales international player, highlights that “If you were a teacher or a lawyer and this sort of details were being passed around your field of work it wouldn’t sit right with that person”. Especially, where data is inaccurate. Another legal issue is likely to be about the classification of private personal data and facts in the public domain, with both on either side of a very thin line.

Players are now becoming aware of the value of their data and have grabbed the data collection industry by their shoulders and are shaking them relentlessly. Given the potential for reform, the progression of this claim is one to keep an eye on.

Report written by Kerianne Pinney

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