Apparently, the governance of the English Premier League (EPL) are in urgent talks with cyber-security experts in an effort to stop fans watching top-flight football on illegal online streams.
This matters hugely to the EPL, which has sold rights to live football in the UK to BT Sport and bSkyb for billions on the basis that it attracts the young, affluent viewers that advertisers demand.
How successful ‘geo-fencing’ will be – the technique where users are prevented from accessing content available in other regions, and the one likely to be adopted – is difficult to predict, but the Premier League claimed to have already blocked 45,000 illegal streams last year.
Though with some industry estimates suggesting that up to 1m watch illicit streams on a weekly basis, the EPL know they have to vastly improve on that.
The biggest issue arises at 3pm GMT on a Saturday, when no live football is able to be shown on UK television, but is broadcast to millions elsewhere around the world.
Most analysts – including Gaming Economics – would argue that the availability of legitimate live streamed football has been one of the major catalysts of the boom in football betting over the past decade, and continues to be so.
Many individual bookmakers have become quasi-broadcasters; one operator, bet365, airs over 5,000 individual football matches on an annual basis. Live pictures have also fuelled the growth of in-play betting too, now a vital component of the most popular sport in betting terms. Millions do it every week.
Many EPL clubs also have sponsorship and other deals with online bookmakers, all of whom rely on such deals to help raise their profile, in a hugely competitive market, to reach an international audience through TV.
With BT and Sky having paid £5.1bn for the rights to show live EPL games for the next three years – 71% more than the previous deal – they will want urgent answers, and robust systems in place, well before season-start in 2017.
As one source close to the EPL recently remarked “…the entire business model is predicated on being able to deliver viewers”….The clear challenge for the EPL is to make sure they’re the right viewers.