Does footballer Cristiano Ronaldo play better if he gets more than six hours sleep before a match? Want to bet on it? The future of gambling may see this kind of highly personal data as fair game.
Collecting biometric data in professional sports — and making it public — is a relatively new practice, and raises the prospect of gamblers being able to place in-play wagers armed, for example, with knowledge of players’ heart and respiratory rates.
Two attorneys, Vancouver-based Ron Segev and Fabian Masurat of Taylor Wessing in Hamburg, outlined the practice of player tracking at the SiGMA Europe online gambling conference in Malta on Thursday (November 17).
What could be intriguing data for statistics-mad fans in countries such as the US becomes more controversial when betting is involved.
In the US, such agreements are negotiated by players associations with leagues and the associations can determine whether data can be sold for the purposes of gambling, the lawyers said.
Biometric data is generated from measurable biological and behavioural characteristics.
A familiar statistic is the speed of a baseball pitcher’s fastball.
If it is off their average by a few miles per hour, fans know the player might be in for a rough time.
Pregame injury data has been available for decades, information that is obviously key for betting purposes.
But what is newer — and potentially more intrusive for players — is collection of data such as players’ heart and respiratory rate or blood oxygenation and sleep quality.
The risk for players can include if a heart monitor detects an irregularity, according to Masurat.
“Then your whole career is at risk,” he said.
In the US, rules vary from state to state, and in the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation rules call for consent of the person whose data is being collected.
In Europe, some countries forbid active players to sign deals with gambling companies, so such deals are usually done through a third party, Masurat said.
So far, agreements mostly allow only for the collection of on-the-field performance.
But it is not hard to imagine the possibilities for the betting industry to use such data, the two lawyers said.
Imagine the value to a gambling company of an exclusive contract to get the inner health secrets of a player or a team, Masurat said.
It could also, say, offer the data only to VIPs.
The Major League Baseball Players Association banned commercialization of use of such data this year.
But other player associations have agreements on differing levels of data sharing.
NASCAR drivers have worn monitors that display calories burned and heartbeats per minute during a race and last January, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had his heart rate measured during a thrilling playoff victory over the Buffalo Bills.
He averaged 144 beats per minute and rose to 191 beats as he rushed for a touchdown.
In May, four NFL prospects agreed to wear heart monitors to measure their reaction to the first round of draft picks.
In June, the NFL Players Association acquired a stake in Sports Data Labs to help players earn money from their performance data.
But as far back as April 2017, the players union had signed a deal with WHOOP, which calls itself a “human performance” company, making it the “officially licensed recovery wearable of the NFLPA”.
The PGA Tour also has an agreement with WHOOP, and star golfers Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas are investors.
But those players who are also investors aside, the two attorneys believe the practice is not popular with the players themselves.
“For a few thousand euros, do you want to risk your whole career?” Masurat said.
Segev sees the possibility of a previously injured player who says “I am not ready”, but the club says: “Oh but the data says you’re ready.”
The player may be working on “gut instinct that’s not showing up in the data”, the lawyer said.
Their “gut” may be right, and besides that, playing with a lack of confidence can lead to injury, Segev said.
Other red flags the lawyers identified could be for players whose religion prohibits gambling – would they want their data sold to a gambling company?
In 2016, the University of Michigan signed a multi-year $174m deal to collect biometric data for Nike.
Nike is not using the data for betting practices, but the attorneys say the existence of such a deal at a collegiate level raises troubling questions.
“These are kids; these are students, they don’t have a collective bargaining agreement,” Segev said. “It’s up to the colleges to protect them.”