Simon Brydon, senior director, sports rights anti-piracy, Synamedia, on why piracy of sports broadcasts remains a problem and what can be done about it.
From spying on an opponent’s training session ahead of a crunch fixture to sandpapering the cricket ball, the dubious ways rules have been bent and broken to give sports teams an edge are well documented.
But what drives sports fans to break the rules and watch pirate sports and the attitudes and behaviour of fans about this paint a surprisingly nuanced picture.
The ‘Charting Global Sports Piracy‘ report tackles head on preconceptions that consumers of pirated sports ‘don’t pay’ or ‘won’t pay’ and have no financial worth in the sports media value chain.
The findings of the 10-country study of over 6,000 sports fans suggest there is a considerable opportunity for operators to increase revenues with targeted sports offerings to tempt fans watching illegal sports to play fair and sign up for legitimate services.
Conducted by Ampere Analysis for Synamedia, the global study found that while 89% of sports fans have a pay-TV or subscription OTT service, over half (51%) still watch pirate sports services at least once a month.
And of those who regularly view illegal sports content, 42% watch sports fixtures on a daily basis.
This figure is 60% higher than the average sports fan.
Although many fans know viewing pirated subscriptions is illegal, many of them continue to tune in.
While cost is clearly a consideration, other drivers for watching pirated content include flexibility and freedom of access, not being tied into contracts, and the ability to watch the action on the move and over a number of devices.
31% of respondents using illegal providers cited a sporting event not being broadcast locally on their home turf as a key motivator.
The survey identified three main groups of sports fans, segmented into further sub-groups in the report: Loyal Stalwarts who love traditional pay TV; Fickle Superfans who are sports mad; and Casual Spectators, more interested in the occasional sporting event.
The report analyses what motivates these different clusters of fans to access illegal streams and, crucially, what might compel them to stop.
Loyal Stalwarts, accounting for 26% of respondents, are big viewers of pay-TV sport and found disproportionately in football-mad countries. Almost all believe it is wrong to use pirate sports content yet more than a third (35%) still do so at least weekly.
These fans would be prepared to top up their sports subscriptions if they could legitimately access all the content they want to watch on any device – both at home and on the move.
Fickle Superfans, making up 31% of respondents, live mainly in developing markets. 89% of fans have a huge appetite for consuming pirate sports content weekly, but indicated they might pay more for legitimate sports services if they had access to more flexible packages, a broader range of sports, or multiscreen offerings.
Casual spectators, adding up to nearly half (43%) of respondents, tune in for major sporting events such as tennis grand slams or the Olympics. They are the group least likely to pay for a legitimate sports TV subscription, but almost a fifth (17%) say they watch illegal content at least weekly.
They could be targeted with flexible payment models, and pay-to-play access to big events.
For a sports fan or player, referee or umpire, playing by the rules of the game isn’t always plain sailing. But for operators and sports right holders, expected to shell out around $50bn on TV sports rights in 2020, getting to grips with the nuances of why sports fans break the rules and continue to give piracy a sporting chance will pay dividends.
Alongside efforts to disrupt the pirates’ ecosystem, this level of granular understanding gives broadcasters and operators the insight to target specific clusters of sports fans with a mix of access and payment models to convert illegal watching into incremental revenues. Game on.
Note on research
6,000 sports fans aged 18-64 were surveyed in March 2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic stopped play, by data and analytics firm Ampere Analysis. Consumers were pre-filtered and chosen based on their experience of watching sport on TV. The study was run in 10 markets: Brazil, Egypt, Germany, India, Italy, Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, UK and USA.
Click below to download a free copy of the report.
Simon Brydon is senior director, sports rights anti-piracy at Synamedia