Sports Piracy Fueled By Gateway Games

According to a recent survey, 84% of respondents are watching sports illegally, depleting the sports ecosystem of $28 billion.

Sports piracy is not just a huge problem in the United States, it’s a global phenomenon. Americans love to spend the holidays watching basketball or football with their families, and pirates are taking full advantage of it – through the holidays and the rest of the year — stripping the sports media ecosystem of an eye-watering $28 billion every year.

Synamedia recently released an extensive survey conducted by Ampere Analysis that shows fans continue to give piracy a sporting chance. Across the U.S. and other global markets, an impressive 84% of respondents are watching sports illegally. Even though most sports fans are already paying for services — 89% of sports fans have a pay TV or subscription OTT service — 51% still watch pirated sports services at least once a month.

Our latest report reveals that it’s not always a desire to watch the highest-profile events that first trigger viewers to look for an illegal source of sport. Rather, one thing leads to another as the biggest consumers of illegal content tap into a surprisingly diverse selection of pirated sports — for example, motorsport fans who start watching Formula 1 illegally go on to access Tour de France cycling, Wimbledon Tennis and U.S. Open golf.

The report examines the prevalence of individual sports in illegal consumption patterns. For rights holders, broadcasters and platform owners, understanding the route into illicit sport viewing plays a crucial role in helping stop illegal consumption before it starts.

Gateway To Piracy

A “gateway sport” is the sporting event that triggers a fan to seek out an illegal streaming service. Once a consumer has tuned into the world of piracy, they are then exposed to a wide range of sports, and illicit viewing becomes the norm.


Not surprisingly, given its global popularity, nearly half (48%) of fans globally admitting to watching sports illegally concede that soccer first led them to seek out a pirate source. In fact, in every market except India, soccer is the biggest trigger sport. The three biggest “gateways sports” in the U.S. are soccer, football and basketball.

Each global market has its own preferred mix of sports, leading to distinct patterns of consumer behavior. Our report reveals that fans who enjoy more niche sports are significantly more likely to use pirate providers, leading them to consume a broader range of illicit content. Specifically, U.S.-based soccer fans are more likely to illegally stream sports — compared to domestic sports league fans who typically pay for their content.

The Piracy Habit

Whether the gateway sport is basketball or soccer, taking the plunge into piracy inevitably leads to a continuation of illegal content consumption that effects a huge range of sports beyond the initial trigger.

The implications are huge — a single viewer may start by only streaming one sport illegally, but one thing leads to another, and that single viewer is now affecting multiple sports industries, broadcasters, rights holders and more as they discover new leagues or tournaments.

Showing Piracy The Red Card

By paying attention to how their content is being consumed illegally, rights holders and broadcasters can review their presence in each market to minimize the risk of black holes acting as a piracy gateway.

Tackling sports piracy requires a careful, intelligence-led approach supported by a legal and regulatory framework with muscle power to deter, disrupt and demotivate pirates at every point along the video distribution chain.

By tempting sports fans back to legitimate services with an appealing mix of access and payment models designed to reduce their reliance on pirate streams, providers can do their part to encourage fair play.

Simon Brydon is senior director of security business development at Synamedia.

Comments (2)

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mrschimpf says:

December 7, 2021 at 11:12 pm

I have never had a need to watch a pirated sports event because I simply have the patience to wait for highlights on YouTube if I can’t watch, like most normal people do. I don’t know what the video quality is, what garbage is on that pirate server ready to ruin my PC, or if it’ll stay steady through the entire event.

I’d also love to see if this study also questioned whether the pirates had betting money on the line and how that impacts the study results, because even the most casual sports fan won’t accept having to go to a sketchy .ru domain to watch an event, while you only have degenerates watching low-seed tennis matches to place courtsiding bets.

It also depends on the sport; I simply don’t follow tennis now because Tennis Channel has put up an insanely-costly paywall and bad apps over their content monopoly (a preview of the RSN hell the Bally service will likely have), while watching cricket is now as easy as a $6/month ESPN+ subscription with the end of Hotstar. Even as a soccer fan, the number of YT highlights channels up from official services and the cost of Peacock and ESPN+ is worth it for reliable streaming that won’t have me in fear of my Spectrum being cut off for streaming a bad Latvian feed in 240p.

Northov Henderson says:

December 8, 2021 at 2:06 pm

Does using a VPN to skirt blackout restrictions of domestic pro and college sports also qualify as sports piracy? Also, what are the penalties for an individual getting caught? Fines? Jail time?