Russians Pirate Premier League, Add Their Own Graphics & Commentators

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Russia's full-blown invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 triggered a Western rightsholder exodus. For the English Premier League, a £43m deal with Match TV was suspended but Russians wasted no time exploring other options. Pirate IPTV services, web-based streaming portals, and streams on betting apps filled the void. HD presentations on the social networking site VK also hit the spot, complete with homegrown commentary teams and custom graphics.

sportscast-badgeThe global popularity of the English Premier League signals huge potential for growth, at least when local complications can be overcome.

The Premier League has a reputation for tackling challenges head on but, after breaking into the Russia market and signing a TV rights deal worth £43 million, a full-blown invasion of Ukraine was unlikely to have been part of the plan. The Premier League condemned the violence and announced it would donate £1m to the Disasters Emergency Committee to deliver humanitarian aid directly to those who needed it.

In any event, the deal with Match TV, a broadcaster owned by Gazprom Media, in turn owned by Gazprombank, had nowhere to go that didn’t risk a collision course with sanctions. A deal with over-the-top platform Okko Sport, owned by Rambler, in turn owned by state bank Sberbank, was over too.

The Game Goes On

When legal access to Premier League matches dried up, there would’ve been little panic among fans. While the piracy situation in Russia had noticeably improved during the previous decade, no content is immune to being cloned; it’s simply a question of choosing a new supplier and deciding whether content should be ridiculously cheap or completely free.

An intriguing interview published this week by local news outlet Vedomosti charts the resurgence of Sportscast, a group that began illegally streaming NBA in 2016 using its own Russian commentators but has since amassed a team of 50, covering Premier League, NHL, tennis, and Formula 1.

Sportscast operates its own website but also has a major presence on social networking platform VK. On VK Video, the group archives matches so that they are viewable on demand. The most recent video, last night’s 4-1 defeat of Aston Villa at the hands of Manchester City, currently has almost 49,000 replay views.


Anton Kuzmichev, head of Sportcast, told Vedomosti that he feels no guilt showing Premier League matches; as soon as the league returns to Russia, Sportcast will stop its broadcasts for legal reasons.

“I have a legal education, and I can say for sure that we are not violating any Russian laws,” Kuzmichev said.

The belief is that since the broadcasting deal between the Premier League and Match TV is not in effect, nobody has a license to show Premier League games in Russia, so in theory nobody can sue.

Matches from Spain’s LaLiga are not shown for the opposite reason; apparently happy to accumulate rubles, LaLiga’s deal with Okko remains in place, meaning that if the company files a complaint in Russia, pirates could find their websites blocked.

Pirating the Pirates

Behind the scenes of these pirate broadcasts, keeping costs under control is a key objective. Match streams are sourced from other pirates, with $3 sufficient to buy an IPTV package for a month with match commentary arriving in Portuguese (most likely sourced from Brazil), Polish, or Arabic (usual sources). As expected, streams can break up at times but judging purely on the replay videos uploaded as part of Sportcast’s VOD service, quality is very good indeed.

Commentators work from home using OBS Studio, adding their own graphics, suppressing the original commentary, before adding their own via a $50 mic. Through a donation model, can earn between $30 and $45 per match but some see the gig as a stepping stone to bigger things.

Ivan Kazakov, who works as a commentator on the ‘Goat Sport’ group on VK, says he took a three-month summer course in journalism and is now doing an internship with Match TV where he commentates on matches from Italy’s Serie A.

Business Matters

For the operator of SportsCast, generating revenue is a requirement to keep the project going. Gambling ads are not allowed on VK so the video player embedded in the SportsCast website is used to deliver gambling ads while provides sponsorship.


The overall audience is estimated at around 300,000 viewers, averaging between 30,000 and 40,000 per match, but nothing lasts forever. When serious competition returns to the market, offering football to the masses at a reasonable price people can actually afford, everything will come crashing down.

“As soon as [Premier League] returns to Russia, our market will collapse,” Kuzmichev concludes.


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