As football season looms large, so does sports piracy

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Image source (c) Lars Bo Nielsen, via Unsplash

Around the world, it’s fall football season.  Accordingly, there’s a lot of buzz about piracy among sports leagues, broadcasters, and consumers alike; as well as from organizations that exist to shut piracy down.

In the UK, the broadcaster Sky and FACT, the UK organization focused on antipiracy, recently warned licensees – in this case, pub owners – to be wary of programming suppliers approaching them with low-cost ways of showing sport in their establishments; which may be illegal.

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Kieron Sharp, CEO of FACT, stated unequivocally: “Now that the new Premier League season is in full swing, some venues may be tempted to look elsewhere for live sports content,” and encourages anyone approached by a suspicious supplier to report it confidentially at

For Sky’s part, George Lawson, Head of Commercial Piracy at Sky said: “We take illegal use of our programming very seriously because it’s important to ensure our legitimate Sky subscribers are not left short changed.” Legitimate Sky Business commercial subscribers see a pint glass icon appear on their TV screen from time to time. This lack of icon can reveal who is showing Sky illegally.

But are rights owners taking it too far?

In the US, the picture is more complicated.  Because the National Football League distributes games on a regional basis (and because Major League Baseball enforces blackouts in local baseball markets, so people can’t watch their local games via streaming even through MLB’s own app), sports fans become motivated to find “signal” where they shouldn’t be looking.

In the case of the NFL, depending upon which week of the season, games may be distributed online through YouTube, Yahoo Sports, or not at all – unless your pay TV operator happens to offer the game via streaming through their service; which isn’t always the case.  Complicating matters, the league may permit just one instance of a game stream within their account – so if the consumer has a streaming box, a mobile device and a PC, they can watch via only one at a time.  So they can’t go from room to room with the game playing.

So they resort to piracy.  Baseball fans turn on a VPN and access their local games by tricking the app into thinking they are away from home.  PC Magazine publishes a list of where consumers can find their favorite NFL games from week to week

Other (literally!) stakeholders

When many think of football and piracy, they don’t necessarily think of gaming.  But in early September, Perimatch, a Ukraine-based sports betting company, entered a global partnership with Megogo, an online video provider, in the spirit of maximizing the bookmaker’s opportunity.

According to the CEO of Parimatch Ukraine, “We, as the first and only legal bookmaker in the country, continue to support Ukrainian sports at all levels: professional, regional, amateur. All these significant investments in Ukrainian football, its accessibility for everyone and its popularisation is part of our strategy for sustainable development of sports at the national level and in the regions.” This, according to reporting by Broadband TV News.

Why it matters

Consumers and rights-holders – are both dug in.  It’s an uphill battle to convince consumers – who, in many cases, believe that they’re in the right in trying to watch “their” game – that their efforts might be illegal.  And many of those who do realize it, take it casually.   Programming distributors pay dearly for rights and want to maximize their return on investment.

In reality, it will take years more before a solution that satisfies today’s streaming demand comes to fruition, given the combination of ‘conventional wisdom’ and the time it takes for existing distribution agreements to expire and be re-negotiated.

Photo used as Featured Image: Source (c) Lars Bo Nielsen, via Unsplash

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