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Page last updated at 13:59 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 14:59 UK

Euro 2008 takes on web pirates

David Reid
By David Reid
Reporter, BBC Click, Vienna

Euro 2008 poster
Advertising in every shape and form spells profits for Euro 2008

The joys of new media means that this year's Euro 2008 competition will reach more people in more places than ever before - but organisers worry that many people will be watching their favourite teams illegally.

Uefa has packed the three-week tournament with broadcasters from across the world and global brands have lined up to pay for the chance to reach an enormous audience.

"Those events are priceless now to gather massive audiences," said Alexandre Fourtoy, head of Uefa Media Technologies. "They need these big events to actually create those big peaks of audience."

Uefa's ambitious multimedia plans are paying dividends. Profits from Euro 2008 are up 35% over the 2004 competition in Portugal.

New media has played a role in producing the profit spike since sponsors are happy to back Euro 2008, both in television and online adverts, confident that the competition will draw huge crowds.

In response, organisers have made a concerted effort to beef up Euro 2008's overall web presence, streaming all 31 matches live online and obliging all those with broadcasting rights to do the same.

For fans in far-flung time zones, it is an added bonus that allows them to watch replays or highlights at their leisure.

Possible glitch

The strategy seems to be working. Uefa is already reporting three times more internet traffic than it saw in 2004.

But there is a possible glitch.

Alexandre Fourtoy
Uefa's Fourtoy believes piracy is best beaten with a better product

For top football clubs it has been a long time since ticket sales represented the bulk of revenues.

Most of their income now comes from the sale of television broadcasting rights.

And broadcasters are more keen than ever to protect their investment.

But with the internet growing as a means of communication, and as a way for fans to get their football fix, organisers of events on the scale of Euro 2008 are more concerned than ever about online pirating.

They could be right to worry. It is easy to find websites that show pirated live sporting events and they are especially popular in countries where key games are only available with a premium subscription, either online or for television viewing.

For a price the sites give sports fans a seat at almost any live sporting event.

But the cash made by these sites, which break into and effectively steal the live-feed, is pocketed by the pirates and never makes it back to those bankrolling the big ticket events.

The consumer has the power to choose exactly what he wants and the way he wants it. If you try to impeach that, you will never succeed. So the way to progress is to understand what they want and to try to deliver it in the best way
Alexandre Fourtoy, Uefa

Mr Fourtoy said the pirate sites were not playing fair.

"We are all worried about piracy online because of course we are creating very great events, we invest on those events to make them great," he said. "Pirates are just out of that loop."

Value and virtue

Uefa's head of content, David Farrelly, says the organisation is taking legal steps to protect its investment.

"We are obviously very concerned that our content is being pirated elsewhere on the web, either by accident or deliberately, either live or on demand.

"We have taken legal action in many instances to make sure that this does not become prevalent now on the web and damages both Uefa's image and the image of our competitions and our relationships with our broadcast partners."

Mr Farrelly says fans who choose pirated websites run the risk of viruses and do not get the value of a good quality product.

Offering the best possible quality for fans will likely prove to be Uefa's best weapon against the pirates, says Mr Fourtoy.

"The consumer has the power to choose exactly what he wants and the way he wants it. If you try to impeach that, you will never succeed. So the way to progress is to understand what they want and to try to deliver it in the best way."

The most zealous football fans will do almost anything to see their heroes in action.

But give them something high quality and at a reasonable price and Uefa hopes they will follow a path that is better value and more virtuous as well.



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