Broadcasting & Media Rights in Sport

Advances in communications technologies  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 top sporting events live.  

For most sports organizations, the sale of broadcasting and media rights is now the biggest source of revenue, generating the funds needed to finance major sporting events, refurbish stadiums, and contribute to the development of sport at grassroots level. The royalties that broadcasters earn from selling their exclusive footage to other media outlets enable them to invest in the costly organizational and technical infrastructure involved in broadcasting sports events to millions of fans all over the world. 

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.

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.