Most Prolific World Cup Pirates Also Most Likely to Use a Paid Service

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At the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, defending champions France couldn't prevent Argentina from lifting the trophy. Back on home soil, French telecoms regulator Arcom blocked 83 domains during the tournament but couldn't prevent some fans from streaming games illegally. The conundrum for Arcom is that if it cracked down on the most prolific football pirates, it would also be cracking down on the fans most likely to use paid, legal services.

footballThe World Cup only takes place every four years so when the opportunity to see the world’s best players arrived again last year, an estimated 1.5 billion eventually tuned in to see the elite square off in the final.

Millions cheered on the French national team as the defending champions pursued glory against Argentina. After the French lost in a dramatic penalty shoot-out, for some it became a tournament to forget. For French telecoms regulator Arcom, the end of the competition signaled the start of research to determine how citizens consumed World Cup 2022 and how France benefited from it financially.

World Cup 2022 – Audiovisual Broadcasting Review

Published this week, Arcom’s study reveals that more than six out of 10 French people watched or listened to at least one live match during the World Cup, a figure that rose to 73% in respect of all content, including replays, match analysis, and behind-the-scenes reporting.

Of those who watched live matches, 90% did so from home, with television the medium of choice for 96% of respondents. Around one in five football fans watched at least one match on a smartphone, with 14% and 7% viewing on computers and tablets, respectively.


Most Fans Watched Matches for Free

Football is traditionally seen as a sport of the people, with national teams serving their countries and citizens rather than their usual corporate paymasters. For these and similar reasons, some countries have laws or regulations in place that prevent the whole of the World Cup from being locked away behind TV subscription packages.

In France, all matches played by the national team must be broadcast on a widely accessible system, at no charge to the public. The same applies to the opening match, semi-finals, and the final, regardless of which teams are playing.

Free TV broadcaster TF1 won the rights to air these games in 2022 and, as a result, 87% of those who watched live World Cup matches did so on TF1, legally and for free.

Paywalls Guarantee Piracy

Of the 64 matches played in the tournament, 36 matches were broadcast exclusively by beIN Sports. Since users of beIN must have a subscription, piracy of World Cup matches was effectively guaranteed when more than half the matches in the tournament were placed behind a paywall.

According to the study, 18% of live match consumers said they’d watched matches using a paid service. Of all live match consumers, 8% reported watching games using illegal platforms, with 5% using live sports streaming platforms or pirate IPTV applications, and 4% using social media, a figure roughly on par with illicit consumption during the rest of the year.


The conundrum for Arcom is that if it decided to crack down on the most prolific football pirates by demographic, it would also be cracking down on the fans most likely to spend money on legal content.

“The 15-34 age group, the leading group of illegal users (12%), are also the most inclined to use a pay option (26%),” Arcom reports.

Numerous studies have drawn similar conclusions over the years after finding links between the most engaged consumers and their consumption of content from both legal and illegal sources. A report from the EU last week found that 60% of pirates also buy content legally.

Paywalls = Profit

In the short term, the answer may lie in site-blocking measures. During the World Cup alone, France ordered the blocking of 83 domains in connection with football piracy.

Arcom hasn’t indicated if that had any effect on piracy levels but a small observation might be that if half the games weren’t behind a paywall, site blocking wouldn’t even be necessary. The flip side is that 15% of people who watched live matches took out paid subscriptions to do so and beIN Sports did very nicely out of that.

“Entirely dedicated to the 2022 World Cup, with daily coverage from 10 a.m. to midnight and all matches broadcast live, beIN Sports 1 benefited strongly from the competition from an advertising point of view. Total gross daily investment for the channel on match broadcast days amounted to around 16.1 million euros,” Arcom reports.

Arcom’s report can be found here (1,2, pdf)


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