Ahead of the Brodies Tennis Invitational at Gleneagles 13-15 June, Rosemary Gallagher looks at the technological advances having game-changing legal implications for how we all engage with our favourite sports.
Fans are essential to the success of the sports industry and without their engagement and ongoing support, many organisations in Scotland and across the globe would find it impossible to achieve competitive and commercial success.
But the nature of fan engagement has changed greatly in recent years. The relationship between sports stars and teams and their followers has undergone a major shift, largely down to advances in digital media and technology.
Such innovation is redefining fan participation and bringing new opportunities and challenges to the sports industry, including a multitude of legal considerations, according to experts.
Scottish law firm Brodies works with a number of high-profile organisations that operate in the sports industry.
Andy Nolan, the managing associate who heads up Brodies’ sports practice, advises the sector on technology-related issues, such as data protection policies, including compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which he describes as a “game changer”.
He believes the evolving nature of fan engagement will continue to have a major impact on sport. “In terms of why fan engagement is so important, fans are the lifeblood of the sports industry,” Nolan explains. “The challenge is how to use technology to attract new followers and retain current fans.
“Sports organisations are always looking for the most effective way to do that, especially with younger tech and social media savvy fans. They need to find ways to tap into their interests, keep them engaged and generate income from them.”
Nolan says that a key challenge facing the sports sector generally is the ongoing decline in physical attendance at events, with interactive technology, such as virtual reality, sometimes creating a superior and more comfortable home experience for fans.
“Things like team and individual player statistics are now much more readily available to fans. In the US, for example, the National Basketball Association has developed its own digital platforms that manage and disseminate articles, photos and videos,” Nolan observes.
He also points to the introduction of wearable technology built into athletes’ clothing and strips to monitor their performance and capture a whole range of health data, with the next stage expected to be injectable and ingestible technology to pick up relevant biometric information.
Nolan warns: “There are obviously legal challenges that come with such developments. Organisations need to protect the privacy of data they collect in respect of both athletes and fans. They need to carry out data protection impact assessments, and they have obligations to comply as data controllers.
“Wearable technology can capture data such as distance, speed, heart rate and sleep patterns and the question is what happens if that information falls into the wrong hands? That possibility is entirely conceivable as more biometric data is gathered. There could also be a scenario where competitors could obtain that data and use it to gain an unfair advantage.”
Nolan’s advice is for organisations to ensure they are processing and handling data safely and securely by reviewing their processes and therefore avoiding potential commercial and reputational harm.
But technology is not just about data protection and on the intellectual property side there are legal challenges to be prepared for, such as how players protect their image rights, according to Nolan.
“People are capturing players’ images, for example, and sharing them on social media, and there is the risk that image rights could be breached. Athletes and other sports figures need to ensure they are able to exploit their own image rights and that they aren’t being infringed,” explains Nolan.
A final factor to consider is how technology can facilitate illegal gambling on sports on a global scale, and how organisations can take steps to stop this.
Nolan concludes: “Technology is presenting significant opportunities for all participants, but the risk of abuse of data, the need to protect image rights and the preservation of integrity in sport has to be of paramount importance above commercial gain.”
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