Taylor: Is it wrong to stream sports?

Oct. 4, 2011, 1:35 a.m.

I know illegal file-sharing is a cardinal sin—pun not intended—and that it leaves a big hole in the bank accounts of our impoverished multimillionaire artists, but what about the sports equivalent? Is it okay to watch games streamed, illegally, across the Internet?

There is of course nothing like physically being at a game, and if you live close enough to the action, it is hard to argue for substituting that with video footage, whether a jumpy Internet stream or high-definition TV. However, it is not cheap being an average sports fan. Even in the global economic downturn, ticket prices predictably go up every year, and teams, at least in soccer, change their jerseys on an annual basis in the hope of prying an extra dollar or two from our wallets. Going to every home game is a serious commitment of time and money that most people simply can’t afford.

And then there are the away games. It is a virtually impossible dream to watch every game in the flesh, even through just one season. Add in any postseason games, and people will start to wonder if you actually have a job, and if not, where you got all that money from.

If you are really lucky, the games you cannot attend will be shown on regular TV via a standard cable package or free (and legally) on the Web. But you can’t always count on such fortune, leaving you relying on the dreaded pay-per-view, or even facing the reality that there isn’t sufficient demand to justify retransmitting the action.

Pay-per-view often prices itself out of the market, or at least out of my market—as an example, a single game from the current Rugby World Cup costs $25, while the whole package costs $150—and depending on your TV package, it is not even guaranteed to be available. Counting on sports bars to step in and screen these games also doesn’t always solve the problem. Using rugby again as an example, the logistics of the tournament being played out in New Zealand mean at least some of the games finish after local closing hours. Though that is no excuse, it’s a struggle to find any bar near Stanford showing even a few minutes of the action from this major international sports event.

For anyone who actually wants to watch some rugby in the next few weeks, my advice is to head down to the Bechtel International Center. Thanks to a few committed rugby fans on campus, they will be showing the upcoming games . . . well, all but one; a salsa class outranks the Ireland vs. Wales quarterfinal. No offense to salsa, but the average worldwide TV audience at the last Rugby World Cup was 87.5 million per game, respectably comparable with the U.S. audience for the last Super Bowl of 111 million. Would salsa come before the NFL?

So when you have exhausted all the normal avenues, what are you left with? Illegal downloading is, as the name implies, not legal, but if there is no other reasonable option, is it morally okay?

I live my life somewhere between the United States and the United Kingdom. When living in each location I have bought genuine DVDs to legitimately watch on my TV or computer, but I am cursed to own a Mac. Apple computers—or at least mine—make it incredibly frustrating to watch these discs; I can’t just switch between watching my region 1 (United States) and region 2 (Europe) DVDs. So am I supposed to buy new copies of everything for every country I decide to live in? And what about the movies or TV programs that simply aren’t available on both sides of the Atlantic?

Finding these online would be a relatively simple exercise, and I wouldn’t feel too bad about watching them because I’m not denying anyone an income; they already have my money. Finding streams of live events is just as easy, and when I simply can’t find any other way of genuinely watching a game here, would it really be that bad? I have already invested hard-earned cash in tickets to previous games and branded clothing for most of the teams that I would really want to watch.

In fact, the closer I feel to the teams, the more likely I am to spend again the next time I am nearby. I might feel scared that the FBI is tracking my every move if I log on to one of these sites, but should I really feel that bad about it?


Tom Taylor needs your help with a moral dilemma: should he put on his own salsa moves to show up the crowd at Bechtel? Help him control his dancing feet at tom.taylor “at” stanford.edu.

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