The Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) is launching a new task force comprised of media companies, streaming services and the international law enforcement agency Interpol that will be tasked with combatting online sports piracy.
The formation of the task force comes after sports-centric streaming service DAZN joined ACE this month, partnering with Qatar-based sports broadcaster BeIN Sports on the initiative.
“Intellectual property theft of live sports content is an industry issue, negatively impacting all sports and sports fans, and it needs a global concerted effort to meaningfully tackle it,” Shay Segev, the CEO of DAZN Group, said in a statement on Tuesday. “ACE is the natural home for the Sports Piracy Task Force, given their track record, reputation, and experience in delivering effective programs of action.”
Over the last few years, domestic and international broadcasters have spent tens of billions of dollars securing lucrative telecast rights to live sports, including the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament, the Olympic Games, the National Football League’s Super Bowl and Formula 1’s Grand Prix World Championship. While general entertainment content has largely moved to streaming services, live sports continues to draw millions of people to traditional linear television networks on broadcast and cable platforms.
But those investments have come at a high cost to consumers: In the United States, cable and satellite fees have steadily increased, to the point where the average consumer pays more than $200 for cable television (the price also includes bundled broadband Internet service). Streaming services like Sling TV, Fubo and YouTube TV were thought to be the antidote to rising cable bills, but higher programming costs have caused those services to raise their rates, too.
With cable and satellite bills on the rise, some consumers have turned to illicit websites that offer free access to live-streamed sports that are rebroadcast from domestic and international television networks without permission. According to one independent study, those illegal services cost media companies around $28 billion each year in lost revenue.
It’s not just hobbyist pirates who are causing problems for media brands: Some governments have been complicit in the illegal redistribution of sports content in order to cause economic harm to their adversaries.
In 2017, Saudi Arabia blocked BeIN Sports from broadcasting into the country while it was locked in a diplomatic crisis with Qatar. Shortly after the block, a television network called BeoutQ launched, offering pirated live sports and other programming from various BeIN Sports channels.
The Saudi government officially denied any involvement in BeoutQ, but an investigation later determined that government-regulated facilities and platforms supported its operation. Arabsat, which is majority-owned by Saudi Arabia, redistributed some BeoutQ channels in the two years that the pirate service operated, and probes revealed that the media company operated from a television facility in the Saudi capital Riyadh in partnership with two pay television services.
The operation of BeoutQ caused significant headaches for BeIN Sports, which specifically cited the pirate television network as the reason why it declined to renew some telecast deals for soccer and auto racing. BeoutQ was eventually shut down to ease criticism against Saudi Arabia after the country’s public investment arm made a successful bid for Newcastle United, a soccer team that is part of the lucrative Premier League franchise.
Going after a country for operating pirate television services is difficult — just ask the World Trade Organization, which found Saudi Arabia complicit in the operation of BeoutQ but was limited in its ability to respond beyond the issuance of a 125-page report — but taking down websites that offer illicit access to live sports is slightly less complicated.
To that end, ACE says its prior efforts helped with the closure of a Morocco-based service that illegally redistributed BeIN Sports channels before the network was set to air the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The service, called Electro TV Sat, had tens of thousands of viewers each month who mainly streamed sports content in French.
Creating a task force and adding more members to ACE will help the organization focus its efforts on shutting down even more online sports pirates, the group said this week.
“The addition of DAZN and the creation of the ACE Sports Piracy Task Force marks a turning point for ACE and confirms yet again that we are the essential partner to anyone who recognizes the threat of piracy to their business,” Jan van Voorn, the executive vice president and chief of global content protection for ACE and its parent organization, the Motion Picture Association, said in a statement. “With every new member, our global network becomes more powerful and more effective at targeting and shutting down the piracy operators that threaten the media, entertainment and live sports economy and consumers.”