Piracy in sports: industry trends

Piracy has increased as the viewing habits of sports fans have changed over the past few decades, thanks to younger demographics and the increased use and capabilities of the internet. Young fans largely watch sports online, but the lack of affordable and legal streaming options in some countries contributes to piracy. Legal options must be available in all countries, and existing options must be made cheaper, with surveys indicating that many who stream illegally would not do so if there was an affordable alternative.

Below are the top industry trends impacting the topic of sports piracy, as identified by GlobalData.

Anti-Piracy Legislation

Part of the difficulty in prosecuting pirates is the global nature of the sport. This has been particularly problematic for the United States, which is often unable to deal with illegal flows due to weak legislation in this area. Crackdown attempts in North America have been stalled after a proposed ‘Stop Piracy Online Act’ failed following concerns from tech giants.

In Europe, cases have been easier to prosecute due to stricter digital copyright laws compared to North America, and there have been several cases in the UK where illegal streaming providers were prosecuted for broadcasting Premier League matches.

Endless growth

Some have compared the fight against sports piracy to a game of “moling.” Each time the authorities make progress in the fight against illegal distributors, others arise in their place. While sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA, NHL and Premier League have pledged to fix the problem, it seems incredibly easy to set up replacements in a near-infinite loop.

The professionalization of pirate organizations combined with the simply overwhelming volume of illegal flows makes the problem completely impossible to regulate. The freedom offered by the Internet only perpetuates this problem.

social media

The spread of illegal content has been facilitated by social media, with illegal links often being promoted and posted on platforms such as Twitter. As social media sites are inherently designed to share information, hackers on social media can be very difficult to track down.

Live streaming on social media is usually encouraged by the platforms themselves but is exceptionally difficult to monitor, so some hackers will live stream directly to these sites. In 2020, Facebook removed 5.31 million items of content that violated copyright laws, an increase from the 3.66 million items removed in 2019.

Password sharing is hacking

Although considered a much lesser form of piracy, it’s a problem that’s costing streaming services millions. Many people will share their passwords on platforms like Netflix with their friends, ensuring that multiple users have access while only paying for one account. This means that the platform will miss out on the extra money accumulated by those other potential subscribers.

It also means that it becomes difficult for the platform to perform as intended when it comes to recommendations and preference data, as this information is not coming from an individual as it should. In total, Netflix is ​​estimated to lose around $192 million per month from this practice.

Illegal income

While most pirated streams remain free, some illegal streaming providers have started charging subscription fees for their services in a bid to cash in on the situation. There are believed to be thousands of pirated television services around the world, with collective revenues estimated at around ten figures.

Most of these services consist of offering live and pay-per-view (PPV) sporting events for a fraction of the price of a cable subscription. While these services are in danger of shutting down without notice, many subscribers don’t care anymore and are more willing to take a risk than pay hefty sums to watch legally.

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen piracy increase

The Covid-19 pandemic has indirectly increased the number of pirates, especially in the early stages. With many people stuck at home due to government-mandated shutdowns, they got more free time and started watching more TV shows and movies illegally.

This was further accelerated in 2021 by the film industry, with major studios realizing they could not continue to hold their big releases for theatrical release. These movies were then released on streaming services and then immediately ripped and uploaded to free sites, which generated huge traffic.

Territorial restrictions

Some international sports fans are forced to turn to piracy to watch their favorite sports due to the lack of robust broadcasting infrastructure and a lack of media rights agreements in their countries. However, even those in more developed countries are prevented from watching their favorite teams, as many fans are in the United States.

NBA League Pass is a global streaming service available to fans around the world and provides access to all NBA games live. However, for those using the service in the United States, their home team’s games are blacked out to encourage fans to watch on cable instead, which can be very expensive for some. These restrictions encourage fans to seek out pirate streams and underscore the difficulties in finding affordable ways to watch their team.

This is an edited excerpt from Piracy in sport – Thematic research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.