Piracy threatens future of sports broadcasting

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Piracy poses an existential problem for broadcast rights holders but there are no signs that live sport is losing its glittering allure, according to Eleven Sports chief executive Marc Watson.

The company — a relative upstart in a cut-throat field — has got its hands on a number of high-profile events this year, adding the UK and Irish rights to the PGA Championship, La Liga and Serie A to a growing portfolio.

Founded by Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani in 2015, it holds the rights for a range of sports in 11 markets, but Singapore has proved a major headache.

“Piracy is everywhere… It is an existential problem for broadcasters,” Watson told AFP in an interview at the company’s London headquarters, though he said the extent of the problem varies from place to place.

“Piracy is rampant in Singapore. It is a very law-abiding nation but piracy is pretty much treated there as legitimate.

“The levels of piracy are hard to make the business work but it was not only us who suffered.”

Watson, who joined Eleven Sports in 2015 after a successful seven-year spell at BT Sport, during which the company ate into Sky’s portfolio by muscling in on the Premier League, said the solution is to offer a good-value product, not to fight through the courts.

“In the end the answer is about accessibility for consumers. It is about making good-value products available everywhere to consumers at a reasonable price where they want it, when they want it,” he said.

Watson believes the music industry has managed to combat illegal streaming of content by going down that route.

“Sports rights owners and federations themselves need to back that by supporting rights holders to make available content everywhere at all times and at reasonable prices,” he said.

Watson, a lawyer by profession, says his bold approach at both BT Sport and now Eleven Sports is born of necessity.