A YouGov study released in late August said 5.1 million UK adults in England, Wales and Scotland admitted to watching Premier League football via illegal streaming services during the first six months of 2023, and estimated another 3.2 million watched but either were not sure that their sources were illegal or simply would not admit it. The figures also excluded youth under 18.
If consumers know that they can get content from illegal sources without turning to legitimate sources which are more expensive, it also undermines the value of the programming. While Premier League programming costs about £70 per month through Sky Sports, Amazon Prime Video and TNT Sports in the UK, pirates offer that programming and more, for much less.
By coincidence, Unofficial Partner, a UK-based podcaster, initiated a series on illegal sports streaming in mid-August. An episode about the Premier League is the subject of the first podcast in that series, titled “The Pirates vs The Premier League.”
Illegal consumption at new heights?
The YouGov-Premier League estimate is higher than other recent reports. For example, the UK Itellectual Property Office (UKIPO) estimated that “only” 3.9 million consumed illegal sports streaming in 2022. In a study published by the UK-based Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance (AAPA) at the end of 2022, the rate for all illegal consumption (not just sports) was 3.2 million, or 6.6% of the population in 2021.
Why it matters
The Premier League counts on lucrative agreements with distribution partners, and piracy has multiple effects on them. First, it undermines what distributors can get for the programming, as noted above.
Second, it also undermines any promises of exclusivity that the League may make to its distributors, and therefore, any exclusivity that the distributors in turn promise to their own subscribers.
Third, pirate distribution circumvents any consumer blackouts that may be in place either by territorial conditions or time-of-day broadcast restrictions mandated by leagues. In England for example, UEFA allows weekend time slots in which football can be banned from TV screens in an effort to get people to attend matches in person.
The problem is not unique to the Premier League – it plagues all of sports, of broadcasting, and of streaming video services at large.
Further reading and listening
‘Pirated live sport endemic in UK’ as study suggests over eight million watching illegal streams. Article. August 21, 2023. by Matt Slater. The Athletic (paywall)
AAPA Report: European media stakeholders lost €1.06 Billion to streaming piracy in 2021. Article. December 14, 2022 by Steven Hawley. Piracy Monitor
UKIPO publishes Wave 12 (2022) online copyright infringement tracker report. Article. February 4, 2023 by Steven Hawley. Piracy Monitor
Illegal streaming and football’s fight: “These pirates are becoming smart.” Article. January 20, 2023. by Philip Buckingham, The Athletic (paywall)
The world can watch Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United but not the UK – so is the 3pm TV blackout outdated? Article. Sept 3, 2021. by Laurie Whitwell. The Athletic (paywall)