Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Buy me some peanuts and baseball stats

It has come to my attention recently that the brain trust at Major League Baseball is pursuing a plan that restricts the use of game statistics without licensing fees. This is a ploy to capitalize on the growing popularity of fantasy baseball leagues. This whole flak has been around for over a year but I don’t play fantasy baseball, so I’m a bit behind.

It seems to me that the action of a few dozen players on a ball field is essentially public information. You have 30 to 40 thousand live spectators, countless tens of thousands of television viewers, and who knows how many listeners on radio. At the end of the games, I see the numbers as historical data. How MLB could control the use of this data eludes me. Does this mean that web sites like Baseball Reference become subscription sites? Will my scorecard be confiscated as I leave the ballpark so as to prevent me from “disseminating the written accounts of the game without the express written consent of Major League Baseball?” And I guess that’s the end of box scores in the newspaper, lest some enterprising individual try to compile the data. MLB says that they don’t have problem with the stats themselves, it’s the use of player’s names that is the issue. Well the stats aren’t very useful without the player’s names now, are they?

With the popularity of baseball surging in recent years and the league mostly forgiven for the 1994 strike, this seems to be a bad PR move. Let the fantasy leagues have their fun. Restricting the use of stats will ultimately have an impact on all baseball fans, and besides, the Rotisserie geeks will find some other way to collect the data anyway. If the inability of MLB to collect fees from the fantasy leagues leads to the restricted use of the stats, then all baseball fans will stand up and voice their disapproval. The legal issues are tricky, but for baseball (the national pastime, not the computer fantasy obsession) is it worth the fight?

Here's a good summary of the issue: Fantasy Firefight

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