Another win for baseball fans -- over baseball

The Supreme Court refuses to hear MLB's appeal in the fantasy baseball case, meaning stats stay in the public domain.


King Kaufman
June 3, 2008 11:55PM (UTC)

Congratulations. You won a war this week. Or at least you won a major battle in the war that Major League Baseball long ago declared on you.

"You" -- if I may call you that -- are a baseball fan, I'm going to assume since you've made it all the way to the second paragraph.

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The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear baseball's appeal of a federal appeals court ruling that it does not own exclusive rights to major league players' statistics.

MLB Advanced Media, baseball's lucrative Internet arm, had refused to renew a license for a St. Louis company called CBC Distribution and Marketing, which runs fantasy leagues. MLBAM, in partnership with the players union, planned to run its own fantasy games at MLB.com, and restrict the number of licenses it granted to a small number of other large sites.

CBC sued, arguing that ballplayers' identities and stats are in the public domain. Baseball's argument was essentially that a player's stats, in connection with his name, are a part of his unique identity just as his face is. It's not a ridiculous argument, but it lost.

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Which means you won.

Major League Baseball clearly felt it wasn't profiting enough from fantasy baseball, at least not directly. This column wrote at the time of the original summary judgment in 2006 that whether the massive growth of fantasy baseball in the last 15 years or so was a cause or an effect of the similarly timed growth of baseball itself is an unanswered question. I believe it still is.

MLB wanted to create a situation in which its most dedicated fans -- casual, drop in on a ballgame now and then fans don't tend to play fantasy baseball -- would have had to pay no-doubt ever-escalating fees to a small group of big Web sites (MLB, Yahoo, CBS, etc.) in order to keep following the game the way they'd chosen to follow it, a way that had always been free aside from optional bells and whistles.

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Evidently MLB's accountants determined this predatory strategy to be a more cost-effective method of sending a message than leaving a burning bag of dog poo on every single baseball fan's doorstep.

The appeals court ruling isn't binding beyond the 8th District, but it has what's called persuasive authority. So baseball or one of the other sports leagues could try again in another jurisdiction, but they'd be underdogs.

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The baseball people told Maury Brown of the Biz of Baseball that they're considering their options, but it looks like MLB's best option would be to try to compete in the marketplace. It has the players, the product and tremendous marketing clout, so competing in the marketplace is a great idea for MLB, except that competing in the marketplace means baseball would have to do something it absolute hates to do.

Try to please you.


King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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