Note: This story has been updated to reflect a change in the original report.
Major League Baseball finally provided a peek at its blueprint for official data: first you weaponize, then you monetize.
MLB plans to require all teams to submit their lineups to league headquarters prior to releasing them publicly. The same report indicates MLB also will hold back umpire assignments, and both will be released first through the league’s official data feed.
An MLB spokesman provided a statement to Legal Sports Report late Wednesday:
“We are updating a number of our procedures to reduce integrity risks associated with the expansion of sports betting in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling last May. One new procedure is that we now ask Clubs to submit starting lineups in a uniform fashion in order to reduce the risk of confidential information being ‘tipped.’ This approach mirrors those of international sports leagues in more developed betting markets.”
In hindsight, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred might have hinted at this move when he announced the original deal. At that time, Manfred said, “Our partnership with MGM will help us navigate this evolving space responsibly.”
Where the lineup situation started
The first clue emerged from a Wednesday tweet by veteran baseball reporter Peter Gammons:
Per MLB’s gambling deal, managers have been told their daily lineups must 1st go to Commissioner’s Office, not to PR, not to media. “I’m really bothered by this,” one manager says. It’s OK to not field he best team, for service time reasons, but lineups 1st must go to Vegas.
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) March 6, 2019
Gammons’ mention of “MLB’s gambling deal” references the agreement into which the league and MGM Resorts entered in November. As the most notable part of that arrangement, MGM will buy MLB’s official data feed.
The deal, however, is not exclusive to MGM. Any operator can purchase the official data feed, and it appears MLB just created a reason to consider doing so.
What exactly is official data?
What separates the league’s official data feed from other reliable sources remained something of a mystery until now. MLB’s Statcast system gathers next-level information such as batted-ball launch angle and pitch spin rate, but those numbers do not (yet) drive wagers.
To date, the clearest benefit for MGM appeared to be access to that information for future in-game betting opportunities. Information like lineups and umpire assignments — specifically which umpire will work the plate — can move betting lines though.
For as long as MGM is the only operator purchasing official data, its sportsbooks could receive a head start in adjusting lines. Competing operations might then enter a cat-and-mouse game of trying to decipher shifts in what MGM does.
And if it does, the weaponized future of official data could be here to stay.
MLB expanding official data deals
The league also entered a new partnership with global data provider Sportradar last month. That arrangement sets up Sportradar as the actual distributor of MLB’s official data, per a news release:
In the U.S., Sportradar will have … exclusive rights for official real time statistics distribution to media entities in their coverage of Major League Baseball.
Sportradar will also serve as the official supplier of MLB’s real time betting data feed in the U.S. where distribution to regulated sports betting operators will be on a non-exclusive basis through Sportradar and additional authorized distributors.
The distinction between media entities and sports betting providers could blur going forward. A clear example is media company theScore planning to partner with startup Bet.Works on a New Jersey sports betting platform.
Just one prong of MLB’s approach
MLB is working multiple angles in its attempts to gain some control of the US legal sports betting market.
Just last week, MLB asked sportsbooks in multiple states to ban wagering on spring training games. Nevada immediately rejected the ask and New Jersey quickly denied MLB as well.
The league infamously sought integrity fees from state legislatures throughout 2018, but found no willing partners. Manfred went as far as saying MLB did not trust state regulators to monitor integrity:
“We’re not going to delegate it to some regulator in New Jersey or whatever, with all due respect. We care more about it. It’s what we’re about.”
League officials continue a scaled-back push on integrity fees this year, while also supporting federal sports betting legislation in Congress. That legislation would mandate the use of official data from pro leagues through 2022.
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