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Integrity gets in the way of making money. The end result of capitalism will always be self-destruction, because the drive of capitalism necessarily requires its most successful participants to eventually cannibalize themselves after they’ve long since abandoned any principles or values.
You may recall this bit of news from the start of spring training:
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
The company handling all this, Sportradar, issued a press release soon after the league’s announcement:
In the U.S., Sportradar will have the same 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 combination of MLB’s highest quality official data and statistics and state-of-the-art live collection methods with Sportradar’s world-class technology backbone and extensive distribution network will deliver a significant competitive edge to sportsbooks when it comes to in-game betting and liability management.
In addition, with unique access to MLB’s Statcast data, among other statistics, Sportradar will collaborate with MLB to develop and distribute exciting new products to further engage fans and drive additional interest in the sport.
Alongside the commercial partnership, MLB will incorporate Sportradar’s Integrity Services into its existing game integrity protection measures. Sportradar will be monitoring and analyzing every MLB game via its award-winning fraud detection system and providing the MLB with educational components, as well as access to its intelligence and investigations services.
The spread of legalized sports gambling across the country would seem to be floating in the wake of the expanding legalization of marijuana, but gambling is far more pernicious than getting high. There’s a common refrain among the more “high-minded” law enforcement types that the reason why some drugs carry higher penalties than others because of what people tend to be capable of or act when on different drugs.
A lot of these “sin tax”-type activities have questionable effects on the surrounding community. Baseball has already suffered through scandals because of the very connection between competitive sports and people trying to make money off of outcomes.
As Hank Schulman noted:
Rule 21 is an outgrowth of the edict that Landis handed down in 1921 when he banned for life eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox for throwing the World Series against the Reds at the behest of gamblers. Team owners had hired Landis as the first commissioner, with unlimited powers, to clean up the game and restore its reputation.
Everything old is new again... what happened before will happen again... ‘round and ‘round we go, and as much as human nature continues to disappoint every single day of our lives and usually in ways we can never predict, the official partnership between baseball and the bettors just feels predictable.
There’s also the inescapable feeling that Manfred’s a hatchet man installed by the elderly owners to strip this sport for parts before the demographic apocalypse claims it. Replacement-level birth rates in the United States hit a 30-year low last year and just a few years ago, we learned that the median age of an MLB viewer was 53, significantly older than the average NFL viewer (47) or NBA watcher (37).
It sure seems like MLB’s shareholders are preparing for a wealth-threatening cataclysm that will necessitate a conservative, bunker mentality. We are just 10 years away from the 100th anniversary of the Great Depression, after all.
But why make money in this way? It’s a choice. Baseball might have an elderly viewing audience, but it represents timeless American values.
Some other considerations:
- This seems like a good way to stoke “gaming” concerns in the league office. People privy to the information pipeline will have the insider’s advantage on the lines. To wit:
2019 is sure starting to look more like 1919. Sport Sullivan and other gamblers made a LOT of money by learning the lineups, especially starting pitchers, before anyone else. https://t.co/19SUvkXMSA #BlackSox100 https://t.co/Obi56CX8as— Jacob Pomrenke (@buckweaver) March 7, 2019
- What happens if there’s a delay in the league submitting the lineups to their bookies? Will it delay first pitch? We’ve seen incredible inefficiency in replay review — including video umpires not even knowing the ground rules for the home stadium — and there’s absolutely nothing about the league that suggests they would be able to handle this error-free. Will Vegas delays be discounted but the length of game / pace of play issues that result from such complications still fuel the league’s efforts to make the game unrecognizable?
- Pete Rose seems to have a case for reinstatement now. Since nothing matters, why not let him back in the game? One might argue, “Hey Bryan, you big dummy, it’s not the same thing”, but I’d say it really doesn’t matter how different the situations are — this is in the ballpark of what Pete Rose did, and that’s bad enough. Pete Rose! Because the league is getting a cut, everything Rose did then is actually good now.
But there’s something far worse than a repeat of the Black Sox scandal or Pete Rose or the league continuing to squeeze every penny from every revenue stream while their minor leaguers scrape to get by or why the cost of attending a game grows well beyond most people’s means and it has to do with the data and it has to do with exclusivity and licensing.
Maury Brown wrote on Forbes.com yesterday about how the gaming operators across the are pushing back against MLB’s demands.
The article cites unnamed sources as saying that “Sportradar, doing the bidding of Major League Baseball, told certain sportsbooks they will need to fork over a ‘royalty’ of 0.25 percent of wagers taken on MLB contests for access to the league’s official feed through Betradar”
We should absolutely not feel bad for the casino operators and bookies who now have to contend with Rob Manfred’s mafia, but we should be very alarmed at the implications contained within MLB’s statement addressing the pushback:
“MLB invests significant resources and capital to produce a fast, reliable and rich data feed that will allow sports books to create more engaging products for our fans and generate additional revenue from the ability to offer more types of markets and keep those markets open longer,” the league said. [...]
“We have granted our data distributors a grace period during which they can supply our official data to operators while we negotiate deals for its use,” the league added. “In addition to a license to use official MLB data, the deals we are looking to strike also include rights to use other MLB intellectual property and access to certain marketing opportunities to further distinguish these legitimate operators from unlicensed operators, including offshore books, which will not have any access to such data, rights or marketing opportunities.”
Now, that’s a lot of jibber jabber that boils down to: the most accurate betting on MLB games can only be made with our licensed partners, who have the fastest, richest, and most up to the minute information as the league has it. Brown makes a key note about this that will setup my final point:
[...] with MLB now tracking terabytes worth of Statcast data per game [...]
In a decade, player performance will be tracked down to the molecular level. We have no idea how much of the current biometric data gets held back from public consumption via Statcast, but we know that Statcast isn’t all there is. And now Major League Baseball has welcomed gamblers into their network and system architecture, verbiage, and foreknowledge.
I have no idea what Sportwhatever might do with Mike Trout’s biometric data, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to be in possession of it at some point in the near future. Major League Baseball might not openly support their licensees selling off the data they license from the league, but we’re talking about gamblers here. The unscrupulousness is baked in.
We’ve already seen fitness trackers being tied to insurance premiums and DNA testing kits becoming investigatory tools for law enforcement. What sort of new nightmare might the Las Vegas mob unleash on our hellscape after being in possession of proprietary biometric data on professional athletes?
Coupled with the league’s naked embrace of new revenue no matter its source and no matter how much that source might conflict with its long-stated and long-held values, the players are going to be the ones to suffer and it won’t be long before other leagues and other entities, both public and private, see the utility and profitability of MLB’s actions and follow suit.