Soccer is The Number One Gateway Sport to Online Streaming Piracy

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A new report published by Synamedia shows that soccer is the number one gateway sport to other forms of sports piracy. This is also true for the US where soccer has a relatively smaller audience. India is the only exception in the researched countries, with cricket as the main piracy gateway. In the Middle East, meanwhile, pirated camel racing streams are thriving.

ball oldWhile pirated Hollywood blockbusters often score the big headlines, there are several other industries that have been battling piracy over the years. This includes sports organizations.

Sports piracy often comes with the added challenge that it mostly affects live events. This means that takedowns and other disruption efforts have to be near to instant.

In recent years many sports leagues have lobbied for stronger enforcement options and have already booked some successes. For example, the EU Parliament recently adopted a report that calls for new rules that require online services to take down unauthorized live streams within 30 minutes.

Mapping The Sports Piracy Landscape

Aside from the enforcement angle, it can also be helpful to research why people turn to sports piracy to begin with. This is a gap that the streaming video provider and protection service Synamedia is trying to fill with a series of reports.

Previous reports already revealed that more than half of all sports fans frequently turn to unauthorized services. These pirates are typically more engaged than regular sports fans and are worth billions of dollars in extra revenue if they can be converted.

Synamedia’s latest report looks at the individual consumption patterns of pirates. What do they watch illegally and why? And what can rightsholders learn from this?

Piracy Gateways

The research specifically looks at which sports serve as the gateway to sports piracy. In other words, what caused people to pirate in the first place. These “gateway” sports are often the start of people’s piracy habits.

The report is based on an extensive survey of over 6,000 respondents in ten countries – Brazil, Egypt, Germany, India, Italy, Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, UK and the United States.

One of the main findings shows that soccer is the top gateway sport for pirates. This is even true in the US where it has a relatively small following. The only exception is India, where cricket comes out on top.

“Soccer is the planet’s most-pirated sport across every demographic and nearly every territory, and it’s the biggest gateway into other illegal sports streaming. But moving the goalposts beyond the football field is key to tackling piracy.”

Piracy Gateways Around the World (image: Synamedia)


The research finds that nearly half of all sports pirates globally (48%) started out by pirating soccer. That’s no surprise given the worldwide appeal. But focusing enforcement efforts solely on the biggest sports isn’t enough.

The Camel Racing Threat

Synamedia points out that niche sports are a major gateway threat too. In fact, fans of these sports are more likely to use illegal services, through which they can go on to pirate other content.

“[F]ans of more niche sports in any given market are somewhat more likely to seek them out from unofficial sources. In turn, this leads on to these viewers discovering a broader range of illicit content to consume.”

Take camel racing, for example. This isn’t a popular sport on a global scale but Synamedia’s research discovered an intriguing connection between camel racing and the FIFA World Cup.

“[I]n the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, viewers who are most interested in camel racing are more likely to watch the FIFA World Cup illegally than fans who say they like soccer best.”

The data also reveal some other noteworthy connections. Italian Formula 1 pirates, for example, are highly likely to have Tour de France cycling as their main sport of choice. That’s not a link most people would have guessed.

How to Stop Piracy

While these gateways are intriguing, it’s just as important to understand why people are pirating. The research shows that the vast majority have a financial motive. In other words, they can’t or don’t want to pay for legitimate streaming options.

Availability of legal options remains a problem as well. When fans have no option to watch a sport legally they try to find pirated alternatives. These “availability black holes” then act as a gateway to pirating other sports as well.

The solution is to make piracy less appealing by cutting off pirated streams, while also making sure that people have affordable legal alternatives. This is a potential $28 billion opportunity.

“Regardless of which sports initially trigger piracy consumption, and which ones fans go on to watch illicitly, it’s a combination of the legal and social consequences plus the practical fear of a stream cutting out mid-game that is most likely to deter fans from watching illegal sources,” Synamedia reports.

“Coupled with providing ready legitimate access to paid-for sports on a range of screens and subscription models, a proportion of that illegal viewing can be converted to new revenue.”

While this sounds simple on paper, it requires cooperation across the various sports industries. After all, just one weak link can already be a gateway that drives people towards pirated alternatives. Yes, that also applies to camel racing.

A copy of Synamedia’s latest report titled: “Pirate gateways: assessing the triggers for sports piracy” is available here


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