MLB’s fantasy rampage

DMZ · February 16, 2005 at 10:14 am · Filed Under General baseball 

If you’re at all interested in the ongoing war between MLB’s web arm (MLBAM) and everyone who wants to play fantasy baseball, Neil deMause wrote an article on this available (for free) at Prospectus on what’s going on and what the issues are. Check it out.


19 Responses to “MLB’s fantasy rampage”

  1. pxnx->blog() on February 16th, 2005 8:42 pm
    […] 005Fantasy Fight Filed under: Fantasy Ball — nick @ 12:42 pm Via USS Mariner, there’s a free article on Baseball Prospectus today describing the recent legal battle […]

  2. Chris Begley on February 16th, 2005 10:53 am

    This sort of echos what has been going on up here between the NHL teams (back when the NHL was a hockey league and not a business discussion forum) and one of our lotto games, Sportsaction. I don’t know if you have an american equivalent, but Sportsaction is essentially gambling on sports – pick the winner in 3 games or more, and win some money.

    The NHL teams have been arguing that the “scores” from their games, which drive the popularity of Sportsaction (and hockey is far and away the driver of the game) are the property of the League and are being used without permission. The Lottery corporation states that they are public domain, and hence they do not owe the league anything.

    Nobody wants to try the issue in the courts, so in BC they have come up with a compromise, whereby the Canucks are issuing a scratch and win – including lots of canucks related prizes – and they get to keep the profits. And, also they drop their threat of suing the lottery corp.

  3. Brent Overman on February 16th, 2005 10:56 am

    Interesting. I’ve been in a Yahoo league the past 2 years and was wondering when they were going to go live again. Turns out, sometime after midnight (EST), 2/17, it will start accepting registrations for leagues, both free and Fantasy Plus.

    (Shameless plug warning) I will be starting a Yahoo league ASAP tomorrow. If anyone is interested in playing, feel free to email me at

  4. paul on February 16th, 2005 12:00 pm

    The English Premier League tried the same sort of thing a few years back – they attempted to assert copyright over the scores and scorers in their games, and charge newspapers a fee for running them, because they claim that they are an “entertainment provider” and as such, any output they produce is entertainment and not news and is subject to copyright protection and licensing much as a TV show or movie would be.

    I certainly hope baseball’s not heading in that direction, and the BP article makes me feel a bit better that they’re not…yet. Still, it’s another reason to not trust Selig & Co.

  5. Jason on February 16th, 2005 2:25 pm

    Worse yet, the English Premier League has set it’s highlight contracts so that only certain networks can show same day highlights, while others can only show pre/psot game images. It used to suck to watch Sky Sports News on FOX Sports World (Now FOX Soccer Channel) on Saturday night and not actually get to see highlights of action. Lets hope baseball doesn’t go that route…

    How about a fantasy baseball game where you draft Right Fielder – Mariners, or #51 – Mariners. Don’t think they could object to that.

  6. chris w on February 16th, 2005 3:52 pm

    Anyone care to chip in on the law here? I have serious doubts about the MLBPA’s right to control the use of players’ stats + names for fantasy purposes. I do think, though, that a license to use the images, names, logos, and everything else, is probably valid and quite valuable, and any of the fantasy providers that don’t have such a license are likely to lose market share to those that do. Basically, MLB and MLBPA should be able to put a license/sublicense package together for fantasy providers that allows MLB/MLBPA to control the market for fantasy products. I just don’t think they’re there yet. We’ll certainly know a lot more once this lawsuit is decided, but it could be 3 or 4 years before we get a final, non-appealable verdict.

  7. devil's advocate on February 16th, 2005 4:35 pm

    How about a fantasy baseball game where you draft Right Fielder – Mariners, or #51 – Mariners.

    More like #51 – RF – Seattle. This is what I seem to remember some old video games did when they didn’t have the proper licensing.

    #5 – I think the player’s name are already lumped in with the team names, images, logos, etc. Total conjecture on my part, admittedly, and I have no citations to back this up. But consider that sometimes it’s even harder to get a player’s name in your game than it is to get the team names and logos- for instance Jordan, who never to my knowledge lent his name to an NBA video game.

    The only comparison I have is video games, but I think it’s a valid comparison, or at least more valid than comparing fantasy games to newspaper boxscores.

  8. devil's advocate on February 16th, 2005 4:39 pm

    and yes, that’s the same sentiment as the pingtrack’d blog entry below… turns out that’s my (utterly empty) blog.

  9. side note on February 16th, 2005 5:22 pm

    It really shows that all they really care about is money. And Cartel for sure! I say with the way things are going: this recent news, players asking money for autographs, owners getting cities to give them free stadiums — what the h##l difference do steriods make. Let the money grubbers take steriods. The game is tainted anyway with all this leagal corruption.

  10. Peter Rabbit on February 16th, 2005 6:49 pm

    Shouldn’t this site be paying the Mariners and MLB royalties? Also those posting assessed a fee.

  11. stiletto on February 16th, 2005 7:50 pm

    so are sites like RotoWorld gonna go kaput??
    and is that this year? like now?

  12. Saul on February 16th, 2005 7:53 pm

    I know in several baseball video games, since they do not have Bonds’ permission to use his name, they merely call him “All-Star Left Fielder” or “Giants Left Fielder.”

  13. Brian Rust on February 17th, 2005 8:36 am

    Gee, and here I thought “fantasy baseball” was the M’s winning the World Series.

  14. Brent Overman on February 17th, 2005 12:40 pm

    Thanks again for posting this, Derek. I knew a little about this, but BP really made it clear. Like others, I saw that Yahoo FB is up today and taking registrations. It’ll be interesting if everything sticks.

  15. Bruce on February 17th, 2005 5:35 pm

    I had read that licensees also had to turn over their customer lists (for those playing the games, I assume). I’d be surprised if ESPN or Yahoo! would agree to these terms; and when I asked Yahoo!, the answer from “Lawrence” in Customer Care was

    No your information is not shared with outside parties.

    Does anyone have the inside scoop, so I don’t have fall back on trusting my new buddy Lawrence?

  16. Rob McMillin on February 17th, 2005 7:58 pm

    I doubt will go after sites that don’t earnestly try to make a buck.

    But they might try to pursue somebody like if they can convince the courts that box scores and the like are somehow protected, copyrightable data. Facts are not copyrightable; only a thin copyright is granted on such stuff. MLB is trying very hard to assert a “right of publicity”, which I would have to say is a crock. The newspapers report such stuff every day; do they, too, have to stop reporting box scores now? I don’t think so, and that’s where this silliness will ultimately end. The problem is the big players in fantasy will get coöpted by virtue of having already paid the license; unlike the situation with the Selden Patent, there is no cantankerous Henry Ford who is likely to have both the money and the inclination to drag the thing all the way through the courts.

  17. chris w on February 17th, 2005 11:25 pm

    I agree with you, Rob, in part. All that fantasy outfits do is take uncopyrightable material (stats – boxscores, basically) and make them into a real-time game. Where are the publicity rights there? The original fantasy baseball games were in fact based entirely on box scores.

    I disagree, though, regarding the legal posture. I do think CDM will take this lawsuit all the way to victory and, assuming CDM wins, ESPN, Yahoo, and CBS Sportsline will have to seriously consider running their fantasy operations without a sublicense. At the very least, the lawsuit will dissuade MLB from gouging its sublicensees (and ultimately consumers) by abusing the exclusive license granted to it by MLBPA.

  18. devil's advocate on February 18th, 2005 1:35 pm

    MLB is trying very hard to assert a “right of publicity” [over boxscores and the like], which I would have to say is a crock. The newspapers report such stuff every day; do they, too, have to stop reporting box scores now?

    The first sentence of DeMause’s article flatly refutes this.

    The center of the article is the question of whether or not fantasy games are “essentially just stats services.” As much as I don’t like the implications, and acknowledging that legally I have no clue what I’m talking about, I think the answer is that they are NOT just stats services.

    When you play fantasy baseball, you do more than just consume statistical information, you’re consuming interactive entertainment that depends on player likenesses for its entertainment value. I think the most important distinction that DeMause draws in his article is between newspaper box scores and Strat-O-Matic. I fail to see how Yahoo fantasy baseball is more akin to a boxscore than it is to Strat-O-Matic.

  19. devoted_fantasy_football_fan on April 11th, 2005 3:09 am

    I think it is important for everyone here to read this thread:

    It sums up the entire case, what both sides are claiming, and how copyright and publicity right law affects it.