Revealed: How legal action will impact Premier League clubs as £500m in damages sought

Premier League clubs with links to data-harvesting companies could see their bottom lines suffer as a knock-on effect of a £500million legal claim surrounding the alleged misuse of footballers’ data, Football Insider has learned.

The claimants, who have banded together under the banner of ‘Project Red Card’, want to hit the kill switch on players’ performance data being harvested and exploited for financial gain by third-party companies.

The action is not aimed at clubs but if successful will likely have an indirect effect on their commercial revenue.

EFL manager turned consultant Russell Slade is leading the case characterised as football’s most seismic legal development since the Bosman ruling in 1995.

Hundreds of companies from the gambling, data processing, and video games industries have been sent legal letters of intent outlining claims for £400-500m in damages.

Project Red Card represents over 1,400 professional footballers from the men’s and women’s games, with its orchestrators confident of a positive verdict under the terms of UK data protection law.

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Premier League clubs have long been in the vanguard of data usage in football, both in their sporting and commercial departments.

While the lawsuit is not targeting clubs it will, if successful, affect the game’s wider financial ecosystem.

That in turn could damage Premier League clubs’ commercial revenue and revolutionise the way they negotiate player contracts, explains Jemma Fleetwood, commercial litigation solicitor and tech legal expert at JMW Solicitors.

“If you’re a data controller or processor, you have to have a lawful basis to process the personal data,” she told Football Insider.

“It’s a fast-evolving area of law. There are always new technologies being created and both individuals and the law must look to keep up with how and where personal data is being processed.

“If we look at player contracts in football, image rights might be covered but there might not be a specific section for how personal data is going to be exploited.

“Project Red Card is looking at whether the gaming and betting industries have a legitimate and lawful reason to process players’ data and gain financially from that.

“A lot of the personal data is classified as ‘special category data’. This is genetic data, health data, and medical information. This kind of data has special requirements and you have to have a legitimate and lawful basis to process it.”

“As well as ethical dilemmas with processing special category personal data, a player may be concerned that the data being processed could be inaccurate and that could have a knock-on effect on players’ careers in terms of sponsorship deals and in terms of marketing opportunities.

“Project Red Card could have a massive impact on commercial agreements with game developers, or fantasy football as well. Clubs often have commercial agreements with these entities that may have to have a whole redraft to include provisions on how players’ data can be used.

“With player contracts as well, there will probably be a new form of remuneration relating to personal data rights in their contracts. That can be used as a bargaining tool when entering into negotiations with a club.

“Clubs will likely be keeping this under review at the moment because, whilst not the subject of any claims, the outcome of Project Red Card will have an impact on how they organise themselves and contract with players. I’m certain they’ll be concerned about their income streams and how the outcome will impact marketing going forward.

“As we understand it, the case is in the pre-action stage, meaning defendants who have been sent letters of claim will be given a reasonable time to respond. Usually, the aim is to settle proceedings pre-action because going to trial can be costly and high risk.”

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