Different sport, same lawsuit. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court seemingly settled the issue of whether sports leagues could charge licensing fees for the use of their stats in fantasy-sports leagues, refusing to hear an appeal from Major League Baseball. But the NFL Players Association isn’t convinced. Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) has sued the Players Association because the group allegedly threatened Yahoo with litigation if it did not pay royalties, according to the complaint, first reported by the Associated Press. Yahoo is asking a court to rule that the Players Association cannot “extract money” from Yahoo for the data and that it cannot control its use in connection with fantasy games.
The online fantasy sports market is still relatively small with revenue of around $400 million a year, according to a report earlier this year by ContentNext research director Lauren Rich Fine. However, Fine expects the market to continue to grow in spite of the recession, in part because it has two streams of revenue: subscription fees and advertising. Yahoo is the largest player in the market.
The Yahoo lawsuit appears to be almost identical to one filed by CBS Interactive (NYSE: CBS) against the Players Association last September. The judge there ruled that media companies did not require a license from the Players Association to use the data. (The Players Association has appealed.) According to the complaint in the Yahoo case, Yahoo’s lawyers approached the Players Association after that ruling asking for written confirmation that the group would not sue if Yahoo ran a fantasy football league next season. The Players Association refused.