Junior Anthony Chiu flips open his laptop and clicks on a link in his Chrome bookmarks bar. As the site loads, numerous pop-up ads and redirects appear, followed by a list of in-progress soccer, football and tennis matches, each with a link leading to an illegally pirated stream of the live event.
The illegal broadcasting of pirated sports streams, also known as cord cutting, lets people bypass paid subscription services like ESPN, Netflix or Hulu to access live sports content for free. The practice has grown increasingly popular among Paly students like Chiu, with the most common sports pirated being those with the highest viewership fees.
“The most prevalent (pirated) sports would be the sports that are most protected, like football and basketball,” Chiu said. “The Olympics are nationally televised and available everywhere for free, so there wouldn’t be any pirating of that because everyone can watch it. (For) things that are more protected, like boxing, where you have to pay 50 bucks for every match you want to watch, people are more willing to pirate.”
Chiu said despite the risks, he pirates football and tennis streams on a weekly basis to avoid purchasing an expensive ESPN live subscription.
Junior Asa Deggeller said because pirating sports streams is more convenient and saves money, the practice is common.
“I think a lot of people don’t have access to cable TV, and pirating is an easy way to access the sports stream,” Deggeller said. “I don’t think anyone wants to actually buy just one game or buy a subscription because they usually cost a large amount of money.”
Physical education teacher and football fan Jason Fung said while he doesn’t know of anyone from his generation who pirates sports, he understands the motives behind illegal streams.
“I haven’t really ever experienced that side of things, but I can only imagine it happens more often than not with the amount of money these (streaming) companies make and these organizations make,” Fung said. “Dana White had a big UFC fight this weekend, and I’m sure people are streaming it somewhere and not paying for it.”
Fung said while piracy may seem harmless, the practice can hurt legitimate sports entertainment companies and reduce broadcasting companies’ revenue by offering a free alternative to consumers.
“People are trying to make money out there and you’re trying to go against them making money,” Fung said, “Using UFC as an example, if you want to watch it, and you are interested, you’ve got to pay money, right? It’s not like you can go to a UFC fight live and walk in for free, so I think (piracy is) wrong.”
According to the market analysis firm Ampere Analysis, the sports entertainment industry has seen a $28.3 billion loss in 2021 with 51% of sports fans surveyed reporting that they pirate sports content at least once a month.
Chiu said he understands the harms of piracy but said it has a net positive impact for making sports easier to access for a large audience while only reducing the profits of large corporations by a small fraction.
“The proportion of people who pirate to the proportion of people who stream normally is very low,” Chiu said. “For people who don’t consistently watch a sport, it’s just a lot easier, and it doesn’t cost money. Pirating has really only become a thing since the Internet has become a lot more convenient.”
“The sports companies and the television networks are making enough money on their own,” Deggeller said. “I don’t think (piracy is) affecting their business negatively. I don’t think we should want to make it legal, but I don’t think we should go after it, just turn a blind eye.”