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Game On – Tackling the threat of a data breach in professional sports

What’s the first industry that comes to mind when you think about data security and the risks of a data breach? The banking sector? Perhaps healthcare?
But what about professional sports organizations?

From player performance metrics and sponsorship contracts to fan information and payment data, the world of professional sports generates an enormous amount of data that has become enormously valuable to teams, leagues, and sponsors in an industry worth billions of dollars.

However, the increasing value of this data comes with added risks. The impact of a data breach can be sudden and severe, not just for the teams and leagues involved but also for the players, fans, and sponsors who trust them with their information.

Beyond the immediate damage to a team’s reputation, which in itself can lead to financial losses, many sports organizations must now operate within a labyrinth of data protection regulations and legal penalties. That’s why it has become crucial for sports organizations to continue on their data security journeys and continuously look for ways to implement robust security measures to mitigate the threats – not only from external attackers but also from Insider Threats and even accidental data loss.

Types of data at risk

To illustrate the scale of the task facing today’s sports organizations, here are some of the common key areas of risk:

  • Player healthcare data and medical records: Player health information is some of the most sensitive data collected by sports organizations. This includes medical records, injury reports, and rehabilitation plans. If this information is leaked or accessed by unauthorized parties, it could put players’ health and careers at risk. Data protection regulations such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) in the US and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in the EU require organizations to implement strict security measures to protect health information.

  • Contracts and financial data: Financial data related to player salaries, contracts, and negotiations are also highly sensitive. Leaked contract information can give an unfair advantage to other teams in negotiations, and financial data breaches could lead to significant financial losses for teams and players.

  • Analytics: Analytics is becoming increasingly important in professional sports, with teams using data to gain a competitive edge. However, this data must be protected to prevent other teams from gaining an unfair advantage. Misuse of video footage and data to gain an unfair advantage over opponents is a growing concern.

  • Multimedia: Sports organizations produce a significant amount of intellectual property and multimedia content, including photos, videos, and live streams. This content is often distributed through official channels, but it can also be leaked or shared outside of these channels, potentially damaging the reputation of teams and players and resulting in financial loss.

  • Fan data: Sports organizations collect and process a significant amount of data from fans, including personally identifiable information (PII) and payment details. This data must be protected to maintain the trust of fans and prevent data breaches that could harm the reputation of the organization. Data protection regulations such as GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) require organizations to implement strict security measures to protect fan data, and regulations such as PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) require organizations to implement strict security measures to protect payment information.

  • Employee data: Employee data, including personal information and payroll details, must also be protected to prevent data breaches that could harm the reputation of the organization and put employees at risk.

Insider Threats and why they’re the biggest risk to data

When it comes to cybersecurity, the majority of media attention is given to external attacks, such as the 2022 ransomware attack on the San Francisco 49ers, which resulted in the loss of personal information, including names and Social Security numbers, belonging to over 20,000 individuals.

However, in reality, it’s Insider Threats that represent the most commonplace risk for any organization.

Insider Threats refer to the potential risk posed by individuals who have authorized access to sensitive data, such as players’ personal information, financial data, and team strategies, but use that access for unauthorized purposes. These insiders can include current or former employees, contractors, or other trusted individuals with access to sensitive information.

More than 50% of all data breaches occur in this way. In many cases, data loss is the result of unintentional activity; simply employees making bad decisions about how they use and share sensitive data. In other cases, there is malicious intent and financial reward.

Some of the common tactics used by insiders to access and leak sensitive data include the use of USB storage devices, cloud sharing, and email. Insiders may also use social engineering techniques to gain access to sensitive data, such as phishing attacks or pretexting.

The role of data regulations

In the United States, some of the key data protection regulations that apply to professional sports organizations include HIPAA, PCI DSS, and CCPA.

HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, sets national standards for the protection of personal health information. PCI DSS, or the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, sets guidelines for the protection of payment card data. CCPA, or the California Consumer Privacy Act, provides California residents with certain rights over their personal data, such as the right to know what personal data is being collected and the right to request the deletion of personal data. If the team is also handling the PII of European citizens, even if they reside in the U.S., then GDPR will also be applicable.

To ensure compliance with data protection regulations, professional sports organizations should implement strong data governance and risk management practices. This includes conducting regular risk assessments, implementing appropriate security controls, access controls, data encryption, and providing privacy training to employees. In addition, organizations should appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO) who is responsible for overseeing data protection activities and ensuring compliance with relevant regulations.


As the amount of data collected and stored by professional sports organizations continues to grow, the risks associated with insider threats and data breaches are likely to increase as well. Therefore, it is important for organizations to remain vigilant and invest in data protection measures to ensure the safety and fairness of the sport.

One potential solution to mitigate insider threats and data breaches is the use of Data Loss Prevention (DLP) and Device Control solutions such as Endpoint Protector. These solutions can help organizations monitor and control the flow of data within their networks, preventing unauthorized access and data leakage at employee endpoints.

Another trend in the future of data protection in professional sports is the increasing importance of fan data privacy. As fans provide more personal data to sports organizations through ticket purchases, merchandise sales, and online interactions, it is important for organizations to protect this data and provide transparent policies regarding its use.

In conclusion, data protection will continue to be a critical issue for professional sports organizations as they collect and store increasing amounts of sensitive information. By implementing effective security measures, complying with relevant data protection regulations, and investing in emerging technologies, sports organizations can ensure the safety and fairness of the sport, protect their organization from financial losses, and guarantee the privacy and rights of their fans, employees, and players.


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