Who doesn’t want to follow the biggest sport in the world? What sport is that? Most people might not know the answer, and it is true that each region has its own dominant sport that a majority of people love, so it wouldn’t be right to generalize.
However, on the global scale, the biggest sport by far has two names, depending on whether you are in the U.S. or not. It is that sport with the humblest of roots, that began with a leather ball being kicked around a grass field with the aim of punting the ball into a goal in order to score. It’s football (or soccer if you’re in the United States) of course!
This sport has an estimated 4 billion fans worldwide, eclipsing all other sports by a large margin. The next most popular sports are cricket (at around half the fans that football/soccer has), hockey, tennis, volleyball, basketball, baseball, rugby, and golf. That makes up the top 10.
Football (let’s call it that for now for the clear association) is not only an enormous sport when it comes to viewership or the number of global organizations and associations associated with football (like Champions League, FIFA, UEFA, MLS, and others.). It is an industry that turns over hundreds of billions of dollars, with player trades in the hundreds of millions and the fact that football stars like Ronaldo, Messi, and others are known in almost every corner of the world. Football is also a fantasy football industry, and is huge in the betting industry. At the end of the day, football is a matter of identity and national pride, as well.
When it comes to viewership, let’s remember that the FIFA World Cup was watched by almost about 4 billion people in 2018. The final itself was watched by over a billion people. This was the most-watched sports competition on Earth eclipsed only by the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games (and only for that year specifically.)
What about digital streaming? Well, this is the new frontier. Watching sports on television is slowly dying as streaming takes over. It is as much a generational phenomenon (as younger viewers prefer the internet over television) as much as it is that digital streaming simply offers more features and practicalities when watching sports. Evidence of this is that in 2021, around 20% (about one in four) of the U.S. population digitally streamed their sports events, so TV sports viewership is beginning to fall. Live TV is still king in most places, however, streaming is gaining viewership globally every year as we slowly digitally transform. After lockdowns and the pandemic in 2020, streaming usage increased vertically as people could not attend sports events or congregate in bars to watch sporting events together.
There is a big caveat about streaming services, though. Although it is a wonderful phenomenon to be able to use your high-speed internet and access multiple services that stream live sports in high-resolution and in several languages (and nifty camera angles), you cannot simply subscribe to any service you like (like ESPN, Fox Sports, Sky Sports, etc.) and watch football from wherever you are. Unfortunately, due to licensing agreements and broadcast agreements, regional geoblocking takes place. This differs from country to country, and sometimes region to region (regions like the EU and U.S. have their own rules.)
Well, sports fans (particularly those of you that are locked down or cannot attend events, or the local pub) this is where a VPN comes to save the day!
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a network cybersecurity software for your devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones) that can be installed on operating systems such as Linux, macOS, and Windows. It is software that takes your existing internet connection, allows you to connect to a global VPN server, and tunnels your internet connection through its services. This “tunneling” anonymizes your internet traffic from prying eyes, as well as changes your IP address (your router’s physical location) to anywhere you choose.
How is this possible and is this legal? Yes, this is 100% possible and legal except for a few countries that have banned the use of VPNs where human rights and surveillance are a big issue.
By using a VPN, you can unlock the glorious world of football that you can’t miss, from anywhere. The problem is that your digital streaming subscription to, say, ESPN in the U.S. or Sky Sports in the U.K, or Eurosport for that matter, will not work outside of their respective zones due to licensing and broadcast agreements. Additionally, you won’t be able to access free streaming services either because these are also geographically blocked (save for the illegal streams which you want to avoid anyway because of bad quality and possible system infections.)
What if you change your IP address to match your subscription, like connecting to a U.S. VPN server to watch ESPN? Yes, that is what a VPN does (among other things!) This means that once you connect to a premium VPN provider (do not use the free ones in general) you can alter your physical IP address and access your subscription and your regional content, even if you are outside of that region. You can also tweak your VPN server to suit the free streaming website you are targeting! You can also do things like getting discounts for digital subscription services by tweaking your VPN server which will make the sports platform’s website think you are where your VPN indicates you are, offering you different prices to boot.
A VPN not only allows you to mess with the system in a completely legal way (after all you are not accessing illegal streams but using commercial VPN technology) but increases your privacy and security while doing it too due to high levels of encryption.