The Fascinating Relationship Between Online Sportsbooks and Illegal Streaming Sites
July 31, 2023

Illegal streaming sites have been around for as long as the modern internet. If there’s a free way to watch something online, some people will always seek that out. And for years, various government agencies and search result providers have played a never-ending game of whack-a-mole when trying to shut them down.

But would you believe it if we told you that many online sportsbooks once propped up those illegal streaming sites? Though it’s debatable whether it was intentional or not, their support was enough to get quite a bit of attention.

Let’s take a closer look at how online sportsbooks became one of the major advertisers on illegal streaming sites.

Illegal streaming sites: a popular destination for sports fans

Most sports fans watch their favorite teams’ games on sports-dedicated TV channels but at a cost. And depending on their provider, the sports surcharge could be out of budget for some people. There’s also no guarantee they’ll catch their team’s games on that channel.

This is a long-standing problem with soccer because only teams on the top flight get consistent TV coverage, leaving fans of other teams unable to watch games. Unless they pay for a specific sports channel subscription, their only solution is to turn to illegal streaming sites. This has become widespread, and people even post streaming links on forums so fans can watch major games for free.

Advertising opportunities for online sportsbooks

Whoever was in charge of website advertising for online sportsbooks somehow realized they had an untapped market with illegal streaming site users. The practice became so widespread that in 2019, online sportsbook promotions amounted to 43 percent of ads shown on such websites. And that effort paid off, too, with each ad placement generating millions of impressions.

Of course, illegal streaming site owners are more than happy to receive such lucrative advertising revenue. Smaller, newly-established sites typically see revenues of up to $100,000 per year, and that figure increases the longer they stay online. The site owners provide exposure to visitors, and online sportsbooks provide the money – it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Reactions from affected parties

Advertising on illegal streaming sites is technically unlawful for online sportsbooks, and they could risk losing their licenses for such an offense. Some sites were creative enough to exist in the grey area of legislation, where they simply host links leading to pirated content instead of hosting the content itself. Some sportsbooks feel this was legal enough for them to justify the advertising.

Meanwhile, other betting companies point their fingers at third-party advertising agencies, claiming they have little to no control over where their ads appear once they’ve paid for a campaign.

So instead of penalizing betting license holders, various government agencies worldwide have cracked down on illegal streaming sites. Their idea is to demonstrate that advertising on such websites is a waste of money, especially after getting shut down.

Were the measures effective?

The issue of online sportsbook advertising on piracy sites first became widespread in 2018, with companies such as Bet365, SkyBet, and Bwin getting implicated. Some betting companies in Europe have “pledged to minimize the placement of advertising on websites … that infringe copyright…”

Whether the promises and the counteractive measures were genuinely effective is debatable. All illegal streaming sites must be shut down to stop online sportsbooks from capitalizing on such a market. And we all know that’s been an exercise in futility for decades.