Bloomberg News

Gamblers May Lose Edge as Tennis Tours Sell Live Scores

September 28, 2011

(Updates to add value of tennis betting market in 16th paragraph.)

Sept. 28 (Bloomberg) -- The governing bodies of men’s and women’s professional tennis will sell live scores for the first time as the sport tries to crack down on data collection used for illegal gambling.

“There are a lot of unauthorized people out there collecting our data, either scraping it off our websites or television or sitting in the stands, keying in every shot, often with errors, and selling it for substantial profit,” Kate Gordon, spokeswoman for the men’s ATP World Tour, said in an interview.

The ATP and women’s WTA tour have appointed Copenhagen- based Enetpulse ApS as sole global distributor of their official live scoring tennis data. The tours said in separate e-mails that “numerous unauthorized sources” collect and sell scoring data and that the practice “presents an integrity risk at tournaments.” No financial details were disclosed.

Tennis officials have become concerned about people attending matches who send unlicensed scoring data on a mobile telephone to gambling websites or data companies for a profit. The information sent by these so-called ‘courtsiders’ is often quicker than a live feed via television or the Internet, giving gamblers an advantage when placing bets. The tours don’t allow live transmission of scores for commercial gain from tournament sites.

In 2008, tennis became one of the first sports to set up its own anti-corruption program. The Tennis Integrity Unit, headed by a former Scotland Yard detective, was founded after suspicious betting on a match in August 2007 involving Nikolay Davydenko, then ranked No. 4 on the men’s tour. The Russian was cleared of any wrongdoing by the men’s tennis tour in 2008 after a 13-month investigation.

Betting Issues

More than a dozen players said publicly that year that they had been approached to throw matches and the tour banned three Italian players for betting.

Live scores are currently being made available to the public through the ATP and WTA websites, television broadcasts and onsite at events.

Television pictures may trail a live tennis match by as long as eight seconds, with live streaming on the Internet lagging behind by at least six seconds or more, Phil Parry, Enetpulse’s Isle of Man-based business development manager, said in an interview. Enetpulse is aiming to cut the time between a point being played and the score appearing on its new system to less than two seconds, he said.

The Danish company will start testing the system once the tennis season finishes in November, and is aiming to go live in January, Parry said.

Scoring Networks

The WTA and ATP World Tour have invested $10 million in the past decade to develop one of the biggest live scoring networks in the world. Although many professional sports leagues such as soccer’s Premier League have sold its scoring data, it has never been done before in tennis.

Last year, 19,000 matches played on the ATP and the WTA tours produced more than 400,000 games and almost 2.5 million points, according to Enetpulse.

The Danish company was founded in 2000 and provides live content of over 60 sports to more than 150 clients including live scoring portals, media organizations and betting companies.

The agreement is not only aimed at eradicating illegal data collection at tournament sites, it also provides the sport with a “new revenue stream,” WTA spokesman Andrew Walker said in an e-mail.

“The data will be sold to both the gambling market and the editorial market,” Walker said. “The agreement with Enetpulse covers the gambling market only for now.”

Competition

Whether the new system will stop courtsiders from sending information from a tournament “really will depend on the price of the new service,” said Warwick Bartlett, chief executive officer of Isle of Man-based Global Betting and Gaming Consultancy, which produces a database of the global gambling industry. “If it is too expensive then illegals will be encouraged to compete.”

Tennis betting generates $84.5 million - or 0.5 percent -of the gross gaming yield forecast for all sports betting for this year of $16.9 billion, Bartlett estimated.

Betfair Group Plc, the biggest online person-to-person betting exchange, declined to comment. Alex O’Dononhue, a spokesman for U.K. bookmaker Ladbrokes Plc, said: “it doesn’t strike me as something we’d be interested in at this stage.”

The agreement between Enetpulse and the tours doesn’t cover the four Grand Slam tournaments - the Australian, French and U.S. Opens and Wimbledon.

The four majors are all official championships of the International Tennis Federation. Although the ITF has no immediate plans for its own live scoring system, spokeswoman Barbara Travers said in an interview it is looking at options.

--With assistance from Scott Soshnick in New York. Editor: Christopher Elser

To contact the reporters on this story: Danielle Rossingh at the London sports desk at drossingh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net


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