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Pro Sports Has a Piracy Problem

Piracy poses a growing challenge to all sorts of digital media and entertainment companies, but it’s particularly acute for companies that own the rights to sports broadcasts, because efforts to shut down pirated broadcasts often take longer than the broadcasts actually last. New research suggests, however, that there are effective ways to discourage the use of pirated broadcasts and boost payment for legal ones.

While many people watch the Super Bowl and NFL games legally each year, through cable subscriptions, local television, or NFL Sunday Ticket, a growing number of people are using another method: illegally pirated live streams. The piracy-tracking firm VFT estimates that 17 million viewers watched last Sunday’s Super Bowl on illegal pirate streams, and a 2023 survey of 3,200 NFL fans found that 35% of respondents regularly watch NFL games on pirate streams. The problem isn’t unique to the NFL. Most other live sports matches are made available through illegal streams.

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