Digital Piracy: The Sports Top Public Enemy

6 minute read · Issue Number 28 · August 7th, 2020

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Have you ever watched a sports game on an illegal stream?

According to this source, 47% of football fans have watched a football match from an unofficial provider in the past.

Sports – like almost any other entertainment industry – suffer from millions of pirated replications of their content every year.

In 2018, Sports content was the second most accessed illegal content right behind TV shows:

Today, we’ll study the market of digital piracy and the infringement of copyrighted content in the sports industry.

Digital Piracy

“Digital piracy” for dummies is defined as the usage of the content without the permission of the owner.

While the development of the internet and communication technologies allowed creators to showcase their work and reach new audiences, these contents were left vulnerable to reproduction and distribution without the consent or permission of the rights holders.

Various industries produce, supply, and distribute digital content that anyone could digitally reproduce. Currently, the business sectors that suffer the most by digital piracy are TV, radio, music, software, and publishing (books, magazines, and newspapers).

In sports, broadcasting rights are big business. Sky Sports, BT Sports, Amazon paid over 9 billion British Pounds to the Premier League for broadcasting rights for three years. The NFL earns around 5 billion USD per year on broadcasting rights, and the NBA sells the rights for about 2.6 billion USD per season.

Nevertheless, some sports fans continuously use illegal streaming services to watch their favorite team.

This survey found out that the most popular reasons for seeing sports from an unofficial stream are; a friend or family does it, and they watch (29%), because the quality is good (25%) and because sports TV packages are too expensive (24%).

Some other reasons are; “there’s no other place to watch it,” “it’s free, easy, and convenient,” “I can try before I buy,” “I already pay for the content in another format,” etc.

The market characteristics and factors that shape digital-piracy are:

Zero marginal cost of reproduction

Copying, distributing, and delivering digital content has never been easier and cheaper. Putting something online and making it available for millions of people has never been simpler. Think about it. If you do a Facebook Live that could be seen by millions, you wouldn’t need to pay for every extra user that watches your stream.

Technology as a facilitator

With the introduction of peer-to-peer networks (P2P), such as BitTorrent, consumers can become simultaneous suppliers of digital content. The increases in storage capacities, web servers, local drives, and cloud technology reduced the costs of hosting pirated content online.

Sources of profit

While pirated content may not always be re-sold, piracy sites may profit from selling advertising space on the websites.

In some specific cases, “content pirates” may sell the content cheaper (appearing to be legitimate right holders). While this may sound counterintuitive, those sites do exist. When they operate, they steal the content, own no rights, and sell it with 100% margins.

Multiple legal regimes

While it may be easier to take down illegal sites under some jurisdictions, it’s tough to take websites down in others. For example, it may be easier to take down a website in Denmark than in Ecuador. Rightsholders spend millions on anti-piracy legal action; nevertheless, it continues to be a complicated, non-tangible enemy to beat.


Finding pirated content has never been easier. A simple Google search can direct you to thousands of sites where the Barca-Madrid match would have a minimal-to-no loss in stream quality.

Non-unethical perception

Although most of the users that know that pirated streaming services are illegal, they do not perceive it as an unethical practice. Also, society generally accepts it as a common practice. I’ve been to bars and restaurants where they streamed sports from pirated websites, and no one complained.

Rightsholders not only loose money fighting piracy and illegal content replication sites, but they also miss out on the chance to charge dishonest viewers.

In my opinion, three things will help us end with digital piracy:

  1. Individual consciousness: reading, learning, and teaching others about it. Realizing that by demanding illegal content, you support the wheel of unethical practices, and by doing so, you harm the producers/authors/rightsholders.

  2. Creation of better business dynamics: The music industry created an environment where paying a fixed membership for the content became reasonable, efficient, and useful. The sports industry should find a similar dynamic to prevent digital piracy or at least diminish it.

  3. Usage of technology to protect content: With the implementation of AI and machine learning within search engines, the exclusion of pirated-content sites from the results will make it less accessible, and hence, less common.

There are no specific remedies for digital piracy, and the global nature of the market makes it very difficult to combat. Yet, it’s our responsibility to take care of the creators of the content we consume.

Until next week,

Ronen Ainbinder   
Twitter: @Ronenain   
Instagram: @ronenabn28      


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