While more than 85,000 fans filled Wembley Stadium on Saturday evening to watch England’s 4-0 victory against Slovakia, more than 41,500 watched live streams of the match illegally via the popular website Justin.tv.
In the United Kingdom, the England against Slovakia friendly was televised live on Setanta 1. But the majority of football fans in the UK don’t subscribe to the Irish broadcaster’s channel. In the United States, the game was only available on pay-per-view for $20-$25 or in pubs for a similar admission fee.
As a result, I counted 41,657 viewers watching the game on Justin.tv. The overwhelming majority of those were watching illegal feeds of Setanta 1’s coverage featuring commentators Jon Champion and Chris Waddle with half-time presenters and pundits Angus Scott, Steve McManaman and Terry Venables.
And remember, this was just a friendly and not even a World Cup qualifier. The numbers could have been much higher for a match of more significance.
In September 2008, I wrote about the illegal streams of the England against Croatia match — also on Justin.tv — which then featured 30,819 viewers watching the game. In that article, I questioned whether Justin.tv was the killer app for soccer fans. Based on the rising number of soccer fans using Justin.tv, it certainly seems to be heading that way.
Ultimately, Justin.tv is filling a void. With all of the advances in broadband technology, it’s ridiculous that the match wasn’t legally available for football supporters who wanted to watch it from the comfort of their own computer. And not just legally, but also at a reasonable price for a friendly. Expecting punters to pay $20-$25 to watch a one-sided friendly on pay-per-view is not a smart business model. A much wiser choice would have been to make the game available via pay-per-view or online for $10.
In the United Kingdom, the problem with football supporters deciding not to subscribe to Setanta Sports in addition to Sky Sports will continue to worsen especially now that Setanta only has one instead of two packages for Premier League TV rights in the UK from 2010-2013. As word spreads about how easy it is for football fans to watch matches via Justin.tv, more UK residents will surf online to Justin.tv instead of calling Setanta to subscribe.
What Justin.tv shows is that there is massive demand for football supporters who are interested in watching their football matches online. Whether it’s England matches or Premier League games, the football associations and leagues need to better address the gaping voids that exist in cyberspace where there’s pent-up demand but very few choices available.
While most football federations and leagues are too short-sighted to see the massive revenue opportunities available to them by making their games available online to a worldwide audience, they instead focus their attention on trying to combat the pirated streams and goal highlights on YouTube. There is no way that those football organizations can win that battle. Instead, they need to embrace technology otherwise the Internet pirates will begin to vastly effect their bottom line if they haven’t begun to do so already.