The recent release of The Pirates vs The Premier League podcast series was a great opportunity to hear fresh voices and opinions on the Premier League’s piracy problems.
The Premier League has had piracy issues since its inception, although fundamentally no different to those endured by its broadcasting partners years before the Premier League even existed.
The podcast provided a platform where fans, experts, and other interested parties, were able to present their opinions on what motivates people to consume pirated streams to the detriment of the Premier League. There was even a slim chance that discussions would lead to solutions or at least some common ground.
Premier League Disinterested in Discussion
While there were no fresh surprises, the causes of piracy in the UK were certainly underlined; expensive subscriptions spread over multiple platforms, and zero access to 3pm games. The pirate counter-offer: cheap subscriptions with zero restrictions.
Somewhere between those disparate poles lies opportunity and the non-preachy nature of the podcast seemed as good a place as any to discuss or even tiptoe round the edges of a discussion involving the Premier League.
Unfortunately, the Premier League declined to appear; presumably because it’s their multi-billion pound business, and they’ll run it as they see fit, within the confines of the official 375-page 2023-2024 handbook (pdf).
With the Premier League apparently in no mood for discussion right now, it came as a surprise to see the name of its general counsel appear in news feeds as the UK enjoyed a Bank Holiday yesterday.
Deterrent Messaging – Paywalled
In an article published in the Financial Times, it was made abundantly clear that the Premier League’s attitude towards piracy (and how it can be reduced) has not changed. Premier League general counsel Kevin Plumb was extremely clear; piracy will meet the world’s richest football competition in the legal arena.
The Premier League’s status as an iconic and powerful global business dovetails perfectly with the reporting of the prestigious Financial Times. However, the article’s emphasis on deterrent anti-piracy messaging was published behind a paywall. Whether that was intentionally symbolic is unclear but football fans aren’t the only audience the Premier League has to consider.
The piece begins by noting that the Premier League will take a tougher stance against illegal streaming after beefing up its legal team and launching private prosecutions. More importantly, perhaps, this is all taking place as the Premier League prepares for a “multibillion auction of domestic television rights.” Given that being pummeled by pirates is imagery unlikely to increase bids, a zero-tolerance announcement to the business world makes a lot of sense.
“We don’t underestimate them. They’re really sophisticated now. There is always a challenge with finding people online,” Plumb told the FT.
“When I first started doing this, our top line priority would have been pubs. There’s a little bit of that now but piracy has evolved from peer-to-peer streaming to closed network subscriptions. You went from the pub to the teenagers in their bedrooms to families watching in their living room, and that then becomes a real priority for us,” he said.
The most significant deterrent message ever sent by the Premier League is still relatively fresh. In May, five men behind pirate IPTV service Flawless TV were sentenced to more than 30 years in prison, the end result of a private prosecution brought by the Premier League with significant support from Trading Standards and the police.
“Would you want to carry on this sort of business if you’re going to get 10 or 11 years in jail?” Plumb asked, referencing the sentence handed down to Flawless ringleader, Mark Gould.
Of course, the logical answer is no. The reality is that buying an illegal IPTV package is easier than ever and nothing changed when the sentences were handed down almost three months ago.
The Premier League understands its business better than anyone but history has shown that force alone cannot beat piracy. The Premier League is undoubtedly special but certainly not immune to having its deterrent threats ignored, even those not published behind a paywall.