Earlier this year, an article ‘Everyone’s stealing jokes online, why doesn’t anybody care?’ was featured in The Washington Post. The author, Luke O’Neil, asks why plagiarism in politics and journalism can end careers, while the theft of jokes online isn’t just tolerated, it’s a money-maker.
It’s a good question, and it got me to thinking about my own field - football statistics - and where it fits in to this social media free-for-all. Just like the internet comedy game, there are no rules, so is it ‘no big deal’ to the general public exactly who the creator of the stats they are sharing was?
Some of the best stats are produced by hugely popular accounts like Opta, Squawka and MisterChip but great content by journalists and regular fans can spread far and wide. Take this Tweet by Oliver Kay from The Times. Two days later it had been repackaged by The Sports Bible without attribution. The Sports Bible, with over a million followers, quadrupled the ‘likes’ received by Kay.
When a team like Leicester City are top of the Premier League, you might argue that it was only a matter of time before someone picked up the form book and made the same observation as Kay. ‘The stat simply exists, and has always existed’.
So let’s track the journey of a history-based stat that required far more research. It went like this. AC Milan legends Paulo Maldini and Franco Baresi conceded only 29 goals in the 196 matches they played together in that formidable all-Italian defence in the 80s and 90s.
The post originated on August 5th from the official Serie A twitter account.
It was proven to be false on the same day. There's a thread about it on reddit that popped up when it was widely shared if you're interested.
[email protected]_TIM claims that Maldini and Baresi had 196 games together, conceding 23 goals. Actually they played 297 games, allowing 221 goals.
— Jacopo Piotto (@jacopopiotto) August 5, 2015
But that didn’t stop it being repeated again, and again, generating thousands and thousands of retweets.
Copy and paste, copy and paste. Even if we don’t care where the funnies are coming from, a stat is (supposed to be) a factual statement. You want to know the source so you can make up your mind if it’s credible.
Since I started writing for the Shamrock Rovers website my work has been used in televised games. Initially, the RTE commentators would contact me days in advance. Setanta’s Will Downing said he would name check me on air when the right moment came up, and, true to his word, mid-way through the 2013 Setanta Cup final, he did. I thought it was a nice touch.
The following year, I made a Twitter account, to share my own League of Ireland statistics, historical facts and photographs. My stats frequently appear in Irish newspapers and websites. One, about missed penalties, came out of the mouth of a Soccer Republic pundit mere minutes after it was written!
The English Premier League is in a different universe to the League of Ireland. I admire the coverage these guys give our league, so the way I look at it, if I am adding to the presentation in some way, it’s only a good thing. Of course it helps too that at such a smaller level most of us - the fans, media and even players at different clubs - get to know each other by chatting throughout the season.
That means we’re unlikely to see something detached from its original author, though I have seen my post being altered and re-used on Twitter a couple of times, with little success. A recent-to-the-scene LOI news site put up two short articles formed entirely off the back of Tweets made by myself and fellow LOI aficionado, and Balls's LOI head, Dodge less than an hour after we posted them. There was no mention of either of us.
I don’t have a hard and fast rule or proper etiquette to suggest for any of this. All I can say is that in my opinion, it depends, and there is only one time that it bothered me. In April 2014, I published an article on my blog after newly promoted Athlone Town lost their first six games of the season.
As much as I enjoy 140-character limit trivia, what I really love to do is dig through the newspaper archives and pull records together on my blog that no one has seen before. The worst losing starts in the history of the league had never been established in print or online; the only way to know was to check the league table after the sixth series, and beyond, every year, all the way back to 1921.
It took the best part of a week in my local library. I realise I’m a bit crazy, but I was proud of it. It was mine, you know? Sometime later, an Athlone statistician sent me this picture of a piece he read in the Weatmeath Independent.
So to answer the question in the headline: yes, you can steal a sporting statistic.