When it comes to college sports, there’s no lack of desire to explore new revenue streams.
Season ticket holders, merchandise, and concessions no longer cut it.
Last month the MAC and PAC-12 became the first conferences to leverage player data for profit.
The Mid-American Conference was the first NCAA conference to enter the fray, announcing a five-year deal with Genius Sports.
The partnership gives Genius Sports access to all in-sport player data in the conference. And exclusive rights to manage and market that same data.
All colleges that compete within the MAC exist in states where gambling on sports has been legalized.
The partnership paves the way for the acquired data to be legally sold to sportsbooks. Although the MAC leadership insists the deal was made without consideration for sports betting.
Sports betting in GA is not legal but has been on the legislative agenda for a few years. It may simply be a matter of wearing down the opponents before it becomes a reality.
The Power 5 follows suit
Shortly following suit was the PAC-12, the first Power-5 conference to ink a deal to monetize player data.
Their agreement is with San Francisco-based Tempus Ex Machina. A sports tech outfit that seeks to utilize machine learning to provide up-to-the-second onfield data. That information can be used to create a better viewing experience. And of course, for better insight when placing bets on college sports.
The PAC-12 has not currently authorized its data to be sold in any sports betting capacity. You can read into these developments as you wish.
These deals can both be viewed as watershed moments for the NCAA. Especially through the lens of a country undergoing a state-by-state reevaluation of sports gambling and its place in society and culture.
From the MAC’s standpoint, it appears they’ve adopted the mindset of, “Well, they’re taking it anyway — where’s our cut?”
MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher had this to say to ESPN:
“We’re doing this to control our data, which ends up in the public domain anyway,”
It’s the kind of statement you make when you see the train has long left the station and you want to make sure the tracks are ready at your stop.
Sports betting changes & complexities ahead for NCAA
With the wave of sports betting bills reaching statehouses throughout the country, it’s no surprise. The NCAA is a business, after all. And the best component of any successful business is the ability to see the writing on the wall.
Where this gets slightly more complex, however, is when you factor in NIL deals that now dominate college sports, especially college football. If a player is legally entitled to compensation for her name, image, and likeness, could that apply to in-game performance data, as well?
By opening the door to data monetization, the MAC and PAC-12 may also have inadvertently opened a can of worms.
With anything related to college athletics, it certainly won’t be resolved overnight. But as it stands at this moment, two major NCAA conferences have garnered deals with tech companies to access and leverage their players’ data.
That may be some sage foresight on the shifting winds of sports gambling in the country. But with that also comes yet-to-be answered questions on what a college athlete is entitled to in the new frontier of NIL.
Could other conferences join in?
While the PAC-12 is the first Power 5 conference to join the party by selling player data, it’s likely they aren’t the last.
The Big Ten and SEC are the highest and second-highest-grossing conferences in NCAA college football. Respectively grossing $768.9 million and $728.9 million in revenue in 2020. If there’s money to be made on player data, you can bet the top two will not miss any opportunity to do so.
Considering how sports betting has been viewed in some of the states where these teams are located, it may take a bit more time, however.
The moves by the MAC and PAC-12 will serve as operational templates for if and when other members of the Power 5 decide to take the leap.
Photo by Butch Dill / Associated Press