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Supreme Court Backs Up Fantasy Players

This happened over a month ago, but I think it’s important enough to be worth a post.  In early June, the US Supreme Court rejected an appeal of a Missouri case which pitted Major League Baseball against the fantasy sports industry.

Here’s the case in a nutshell: A few years ago Major League Baseball decided that they would centralize the sale of “licenses” to companies that ran fantasy sports leagues.  To put it simply, they saw how valuable fantasy sports was as they wanted some of that money.  They charged anybody who ran a fantasy league a huge licensising fee (up to $2 million) for the rights to use the player names and stats of the league.  Player images (as used on baseball cards and video games) had always been licensed,  but never before had a sports league claimed that player names and stats were also their private property. 

CDM Fantasy Sports, a medium-sized company out of St. Louis, fought back when Major League Baseball refused to give them a license.  They sued under the claim that player names and statistics were public news items and nobody had the right to claim ownership of  them.  It had to go all the way to the Supreme Court, but they won their case.

This has a personal side for me, as I started out my internet career (such as it is) as a writer for a website called LeaderboardSports.com.  We were a small company that ran its own fantasy baseball game online, but when the MLB instituted their licensing fees we couldn’t come up with the money and the company went under.  So let me say, as a personal opinion that is not endorsed by this blog: MLB can kiss my butt on this one. Ha-ha!

Also, let’s give a hand for CDM Fantasy Sports, who are best known for running those  “salary cap” games you find in the pages of Sporting News and in lots of fantasy magazines.  I never got into those games, but I know people who swear by them.  It was CDM who decided to fight the good fight for the little guy while the “powers” of the industry – CBS, ESPN, Yahoo, etc – decided just to roll over and take being extorted.  Shame on you.

On a practical note, this should have big implications for the fantasy sports industry.  It allows anybody with the right skills and servers to start their own fantasy games, which can only be good news for fantasy players.  It’s hard to imagine any company overthrowing Sportsline or Yahoo as leaders in the industry, but at one point it was hard to imagine that anybody would ever use a web browser other than Internet Explorer.  Currently 40% of Fake Teams readers use something other than IE, so there you go.  It will be interesting to see what kind of fantasy games will sprout up over the next few years.

Good news for the industry and good news for fantasy players everywhere.