World Intellectual Property Organization

Broadcasting & Media Rights in Sport

Advances in communications technologies – satellite, cable, broadband and mobile internet – have revolutionized broadcast sports coverage and enabled billions of people around the world to take part in the spectacle and excitement of major sporting events.

(Photo: Official White House Photostream)

Copyright and related rights, particularly those relating to broadcasting organizations, underpin the relationship between sport and television and other media. Television and media organizations pay huge sums of money for the exclusive right to broadcast sporting events live.  For example, of the US$3.7 billion in total revenues (excluding ticket sales) generated by the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, two-thirds or US$2.4 billion was derived from the sale of broadcasting rights. The sale of marketing rights brought in another US$1.1 billion, with the remainder accounted for by sale of hospitality rights and licensing.

The sale of broadcasting and media rights is now the biggest source of revenue for most sports organizations, generating the funds needed to finance major sporting events, refurbish sports stadia, and contribute to the development of sport at grassroots level. Of the estimated $1.7 billion paid by broadcasters for exclusive rights to broadcast the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, about half went to the organizing committee for the Games and the other half to the broader Olympic movement, including National Olympic Committees and the international federations for the various Olympic sports.

Meanwhile, the royalties that broadcasters earn from selling their exclusive footage to other media outlets enable them to invest in the costly organizational and technical undertaking involved in broadcasting sports events to millions of fans all over the world. Thus Beijing Olympic Broadcasting, which as host broadcaster for the Beijing Games supplied television signals from all the Olympic venues, deployed 6,000 staff, 1,000 cameras, 575 digital video tape recorders, 350 broadcast trailers and 62 outside broadcast vans.

Television rights are thought to account for about 60% of the income of the Tour de France, which is broadcast in over 180 countries. The English Premier League, whose matches are broadcast in 212 countries, sold domestic and international television rights for the three seasons 2010-2013 for £3.2 billion.

Broadcasters' rights:

  • Safeguard costly investments in televising sporting events
  • Recognize and reward the entrepreneurial efforts of broadcasting organizations
  • Recognize and reward their contribution to diffusion of information and culture

Under the International Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations (Rome Convention) of 1961, broadcasters have exclusive rights for 20 years to authorize rebroadcasting, “fixation” (recording), reproduction and communication to the public of their broadcasts. However, there is wide agreement that the protection of broadcasters’ rights needs updating to accommodate the digital communications revolution. Ongoing negotiations at WIPO aim to create an international legal framework that adequately and efficiently protects against the piracy of broadcast signals.

Competitive sport has become a global billion-dollar industry due in large part to intellectual property rights and ever closer cooperation between the media, sponsors and sports authorities. However, more sophisticated communications technologies, accessible to a wide public, have not only enabled fans to follow live sports wherever they may be but have opened new possibilities for signal theft. Live sports broadcasts have been a particular target for unauthorized retransmission on the internet, often through peer-to-peer file-sharing technology that acts as a conduit for users to share content.

Signal piracy not only threatens the advertising and sales revenues of the broadcasters that have paid for exclusive rights to show live coverage of sports events, but also risks reducing the value of those rights and hence the revenues of sports organizations. While national laws provide various options for tackling signal piracy, including shutting down illegal websites, broadcasting organizations have pressed for better legal protection at international level.

At the same time, broadcasters and sports organizations are using digital media to reach out to and engage their audiences, especially younger viewers, by offering sports coverage in a variety of formats. For example, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) uses the latest anti-piracy technologies to ensure rights-holding broadcasters have exclusive broadcast rights within their territories, including on digital platforms. The Beijing Games in 2008 and the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010 were the first ever Olympic Games to have full digital coverage around the world, enabling viewers to follow the live action or catch highlights on their computers or mobile phones. The IOC is also using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr to interact with and engage young people.


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