Sports Media Ethics

Nobody owns basic league stats


There’s no need to cite statistics like this found on websites, such as

I get all sorts of sports questions but few that are so glaringly bizarre that I squint, furrow my brow and figuratively scratch my head, wondering whether I heard the student’s words correctly. In essence, he asked whether journalists can use league stats posted on websites. Apparently, this person had been scolded for using basic statistics posted on MLB and ESPN websites

The quick answer: Yes, he could use this league data because one can’t copyright facts. And that’s precisely what statistics really are: A numerical representation of player and team performances – not unlike a politician’s election results across various precincts.The Supreme Court agreed when it turned down a writ of certiorari related to C.B.C v. MLBAM in 2008, thus allowing a circuit ruling to stand. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit had previously said that “the information used in CBC’s fantasy baseball games is all readily available in the public domain, and it would be strange law that a person would not have a First Amendment right to use information that is available to everyone.” Ultimately, these league facts are protected by the First Amendment.

Not all sports stats are public domain, though. Those who use basic stats to create new data (namely sabermetricians at websites such as FanGraphs, FiveThirtyEightBeyond The Boxscore, and The Hardball Times) should get credited for yielding original results, revealing new insights and telling new stories about players, teams and leagues.

So feel free to cite basic statistical information, such as rushing yards, field-goal percentage and shots on goals, without attribution, but always cite those who build on this data.