An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service
June 03, 2008
The Supreme Court refused to get involved in a dispute between fantasy leagues and professional baseball, to the dismay of the major leagues, and perhaps office managers and spouses as well who have lost time and loved ones to the obsessive hobby.
This means that for-profit online fantasy leagues can use the names and statistics of professional athletes without paying a licensing fee.
If the leagues are fantasies, the numbers are not. An estimated 20 million players generate $500 million in annual revenues. Major League Baseball has fantasy licensing agreements -- with ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS Sportsline, among others -- but the suit was brought by a St. Louis company, C.B.C. Distribution and Marketing, that the league refused to license.
MLB and its players' union argued that the players have a right to control and profit from the commercial use of their names. But C.B.C. argued that the players' names and statistics were so widely and readily available as to be basically in the public domain and that any attempt to control their use would be a violation of free speech.
In fantasy sports -- there are also leagues for other pro sports -- the participants act as team owners, building rosters through bidding and trading on players. Their teams' fortunes rise and fall with how well the real-life players perform.
It is a harmless, if often time-consuming, hobby -- in one office the fantasy league is referred to as the "No-Life Caucus" -- and one that keeps baseball's natural fan base intensely involved with their sport even as it draws in new fans.
Baseball argued that "billions of dollars" in licensing deals would be jeopardized if the names of famous athletes and other celebrities could be exploited commercially without their owners' permission. And there is something to this argument.
But since the Supreme Court declined to rule, the case sets no precedent and the decision applies only to fantasy leagues. With that settled -- play ball!
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