The world’s most popular sport faces a relentless and insidious threat: piracy. The illegal filming and broadcasting of football games not only infringe upon intellectual property rights but also undermine the financial stability and sustainability of clubs and leagues, writes David Little, a Partner in our Corporate and Commercial department who increasingly handles Sports Law cases too.
As technology advances and internet connectivity becomes more accessible, piracy has grown exponentially in the world of football. Illegal streaming websites and unlicensed broadcasts have proliferated, offering fans free access to live games and highlights. This phenomenon has raised serious concerns among stakeholders, including broadcasters, clubs, and leagues, who suffer significant financial repercussions as a result.
The Times earlier in the month described the issue as, “Football’s ‘life or death’ fight against piracy.” The Premier League blocked more than 600,000 illegal live streams last season in the fight against piracy, which experts said is an ‘industry killer’. The number of streams blocked has trebled since 2019, with the rising total underscoring the growth of the problem but also the success of efforts to close live streams, according to anti-piracy experts.
Cameron Andrews, head of anti-piracy at beIN Sports, one of the Premier League and Uefa’s most important international rights-holders, told The Times that pirate networks in the Middle East and north Africa alone are costing the broadcaster $1bn a year.
The English Premier League (EPL) is one of the most lucrative football competitions globally, attracting a massive global audience. However, the EPL’s popularity has made it a prime target for piracy. Unauthorized streaming and broadcast of EPL matches have led to substantial financial losses for the league and its member clubs.
Piracy undermines the revenue streams that clubs heavily rely on, including broadcasting rights deals, sponsorship agreements, and merchandising. These losses directly affect player salaries, youth development programs, and investment in infrastructure. Furthermore, piracy hinders the league’s ability to reinvest in the grassroots and community initiatives, which play a vital role in developing the sport at the grassroots level.
Italy’s Serie A is renowned for its passionate fanbase and storied history. However, the league has also faced severe challenges from piracy. Illegal streaming platforms often offer live coverage of Serie A matches without proper licensing or consent from the league and its broadcasting partners.
As a consequence, the broadcasters that hold the rights to Serie A matches experience a significant reduction in viewership and subscription rates. This directly impacts their advertising revenues and the return on investment they expected from securing broadcasting rights. The decreased revenue for broadcasters also translates into lower revenues for Serie A clubs, leading to financial instability and hindered competitiveness in the transfer market.
Football authorities and stakeholders have not remained idle in the face of this “life or death” fight against piracy. They have been adopting various strategies to combat this menace and protect the interests of clubs and leagues.
- a) Strengthening Legal Frameworks: Football leagues have been actively working with governments and international bodies to tighten intellectual property laws and impose stricter penalties for piracy. This includes cracking down on illegal streaming websites and taking legal action against individuals and organizations involved in the illicit broadcasting of matches.
- b) Technology and Digital Solutions: Football authorities are also harnessing technology to protect the integrity of live broadcasts. Advanced encryption and watermarking technologies are employed to prevent unauthorized access to live streams and track the source of any unauthorized broadcast.
- c) Public Awareness Campaigns: Educating fans about the consequences of piracy is crucial in combatting the issue. Public awareness campaigns highlight the detrimental impact of piracy on the football ecosystem, urging fans to support the sport ethically by accessing games through legitimate channels.
Football’s battle against piracy is an ongoing struggle that threatens the very essence of the beautiful game. The illegal filming and broadcasting of matches have resulted in substantial financial losses for clubs and leagues, compromising their ability to invest in player development, infrastructure, and community initiatives. As football continues to evolve in the digital age, stakeholders must remain vigilant and united in their efforts to protect the sport’s integrity and financial sustainability. By implementing stronger legal frameworks, utilizing technology, and raising public awareness, the global football community can tackle piracy head-on and safeguard the future of the sport for generations to come.
Contact our Sports Lawyer
David Little, is a Partner in the Corporate and Commercial team and also Head of Sports Law for the firm. If you would like to contact him please quote Ref CB417 on either 07968 027343 or 020 7631 4141 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The above is accurate as at 24 August 2023. The information above may be subject to change.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.