All I Want for Christmas is an AFL API

If you want to do your own football analysis today – write an article, create a chart, build a neat online tool – you can’t legitimately acquire the most basic stats about AFL matches, not even the scores.

You can manually browse to a website and eyeball the scores. But these pages have Terms of Use that prohibit any downloading or reuse of content, like this one linked from

The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) protects materials such as films, music, books and computer programs. You can break the law if you download, copy, share or distribute this material, unless you’re allowed to do so by the Copyright Act or you have the copyright owner’s permission. Please don’t use our services to do any of these things, because if you do, we might have to cancel your services (including your email count) and the copyright owner could take legal action against you.

In practice, small operators – armchair analysts and independent sites – either laboriously compile these stats themselves, or else ignore the Terms of Use and write programs to download them from somewhere else anyway. Not everyone can do this, though, and for those who can, it can be tedious and time-consuming, as whenever the website updates its format, the scraper stops working or begins pulling corrupt data. And sometimes the source just plain disappears.

The AFL could and should create an API: a simple online interface that publicly serves up very basic football data such as match scores in a computer-readable format. It could do this simply, cheaply, and without exposing any advanced stats that Champion Data rightly consider to be proprietary and valuable.

This would:

  1. Dramatically lower the barrier to entry for anyone with an interest in building something on top of football stats, allowing them to get started with a bunch of basic, legal data.
  2. Signal an interest in and acknowledgment of the growing amateur/semi-pro analytics community and its audience.
  3. Grant the AFL some control over what’s happening. At the moment, it has a fence around every single piece of data, a bunch of tunnels going underneath, and no idea who’s digging them or why. If it added a gate to the fence, many people would use it, because gates are easier.

Today there are excellent free APIs for practically all major world sports, except AFL. There are dozens for cricket and rugby, and hundreds for soccer. In the US, you can’t move for tripping over a baseball, basketball, or football API. But for AFL: nothing.

Regardless of where you land in the wider debate over exactly which stats should or shouldn’t be kept secret, surely no-one is being served when basic match scores are kept under legal lock and key. Fixing this could create a platform for analytics innovation, discussion, and expansion.

Please, Santa?