Foul play: The high cost of IP infringement in sports

As Europe gears up for major sporting events like UEFA EURO 2024, the Tour de France, and the Olympic Games in Paris, the European Union faces concerning trends in illegal sports streaming and counterfeit sporting goods. According to EUIPO data, millions of EU citizens access or stream sports content from illegal online sources while fake sports equipment cost manufacturers €850 million per year. This poses a substantial threat to the financing of sports, as revenues from legitimate broadcasts are critical for the support of sports organisations and athletes.

Young people more likely to stream sports illegally

According to the EUIPO’s IP perception study, 12% of EU citizens access or stream sports content from illegal online sources. This number rises to 27% among young people aged 15-24 with 47% of Bulgarian youth admitting to such activities. This is followed by Spain and Greece at 42%, Slovenia at 39%, and Ireland at 34%.

According to the EUIPO’s study on online copyright infringement, streaming is the most common method to access illicit TV content – 58% of piracy in the EU occurs via streaming and 32% through download.

Impact of counterfeit sports goods

According to the EUIPO’s Intellectual Property and Youth Scoreboard, 10% of EU youth age 15-24 admit to purchasing fake sporting equipment intentionally. Conversely, 7% of young European consumers have bought counterfeit items by accident.

The impact of these counterfeit sales in the EU is substantial, causing an estimated total loss of €851 million annually – equivalent to 11% of the total sales in the sector – according to EUIPO calculations. France, Austria, and the Netherlands experience the highest monetary losses, amounting to hundreds of millions of euros each. In terms of proportional impact, Romania, Lithuania, and Hungary suffer the most, with counterfeit sports equipment accounting for up to 20% of total lost sales in each country.

Furthermore, the EUIPO's studies suggest that fake goods also pose significant health risks due to non-compliance with safety standards and environmental protection standards as indicated by the EUIPO and OECD study on dangerous goods.

Fighting live-event piracy and IP infringement

Across the EU, countries and affected parties are combatting live event piracy and counterfeiting relying on regulations and technology to block illicit online services. The European Commission has adopted two recommendations on the topic: one on combating online piracy of sports and other live events, which established a network of dedicated national administrative authorities, and another to combat counterfeiting through increased enforcement and awareness to which the EUIPO contributes through dissemination, implementation and monitoring efforts.

In addition, awareness raising plays an important role in tackling piracy by helping consumers find legitimate digital content. An example of this is the EUIPO’s Agorateka, a tool that helps viewers identify legal offers for online content, including sporting events.

Targeting counterfeit goods in Europe

Law enforcement across Europe has intensified efforts against counterfeit goods. Operation Fake Star , targeting counterfeit sporting and luxury goods, resulted in the seizure of 8 million counterfeit items valued at €120 million and the arrest of 264 individuals. The operation, coordinated by Europol and led by Spanish and Greek police along with the active participation of agencies and authorities from 18 countries, uncovered not only counterfeiting but also organised crime activities such as smuggling and money laundering.


Cooperation is key in fight against piracy

As global sporting events attract millions of viewers, the EUIPO emphasises the importance of intellectual property rights in maintaining the integrity and financial viability of sports. These efforts are crucial in protecting the sports industry and ensuring that revenues continue to support athletes and sports organisations. As the EU continues to tackle these challenges, the cooperation of consumers, authorities, and the sports community will be vital in promoting fair play both on and off the field.