What once had a homepage full of free links to stream a slew of sporting events, now is stamped with government agency logos and a concise letter from Homeland Security Investigations saying the domain has been seized.
ATDHE.net, the once popular, growing website where any computer owner could stream sporting events for no charge, was indeed shut down days before Super Bowl XLV. That doesn’t mean the site has been shut down for good, though, or even that it was out of commission for more than a few hours.
Stefen Anderson, Digital Content Manager for Clear Channel’s 620 WDAE, a Tampa-based sports radio station, said these streaming websites were created for gambling purposes. As a webmaster and member of a radio station that is the flagship network for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rays and Lightning, Anderson is a knowledgeable observer of this trend.
“Everybody gambles,” Anderson said. “In the United States where it’s illegal, people still do it online. The thing is, is that they don’t have to rely on somebody else’s word on how the game goes. They can watch it in real time.”
Nonetheless, various groups of people seem to be using websites like ATDHE.net.
Tony Cooper, a writer for SanDiego.com and journalist for 30 years, has written multiple articles while tracking the happenings of ATDHE.net. He confirmed that ATDHE, as well as other sites just like it, are being used by different people, namely people who live in “blacked out” areas. For the National Football League, if a team does not sell out a home game within a certain amount of time, the game does not get shown, or is “blacked out,” locally on television.
“It’s particularly big with football, regarding the black outs,” said Cooper, who has been through a few black outs from the San Diego Chargers recently. “People are really resenting that they have to be blackmailed into going to games, which doesn’t work.”
In the 2009 NFL season alone, the league took down 2,800 unauthorized online streams, according to NFL spokesman Dan Masonson, as stated in a CNN article from late 2010. And according to several reports, in early February of this year, authorities shut down and seized 10 sports streaming sites, with ATDHE.net being one of them.
“The thing is, these sites, if you look at them, they’re professional,” Cooper said. “One of these sites has legitimate ads, so the people who do this know what they’re doing.”
In fact, in early March, the Department of Homeland Security and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement arrested Brian McCarthy, who ran another popular streaming site, channelsurfing.net, on one count of copyright infringement, per a Fox News article. Authorities said the 32-year-old made more than $90,000 from being paid to advertise on his website.
According to the article, the site still received upwards of 1.3 million hits after it had been seized.
College students who are sports fans are also among the groups that stream games online. Students attending universities out of the state or country may end up watching their hometown team’s games online if they are not shown on television. For some fans in college, this online streaming may even be a necessity.
“As a fan, it’s a necessity to see these games, so you’re going to do whatever you can do to see it since you don’t have the ability to legally,” said a University of Tampa student requesting anonymity. This student uses ATDHE to watch Jets and Knicks games whenever they’re not shown in Tampa. They also said that just about everyone he knows does the same for some reason or another.
Likewise, UT student Patrick Garvey has used ATDHE before. Garvey is from Minnesota.
“I use it a lot to watch all the Vikings’ games and I’ll probably watch a couple of Twins’ games,” said Garvey, who added that he has streamed mixed martial arts events online as well.
While these UT students who use ATDHE come from up north, taking advantage of online resources for sporting event streaming is not just limited to the United States. Sophomore and Brazil native Mathias Hoffrichter also stated that he uses the same website. When in Brazil, he streams American football, watching for no specific teams, but rather for “whatever’s good,” and when in the States, he watches soccer. He does this because the two sports do not broadcast on television in their corresponding locations.
Hoffrichter and Garvey both believe that when it comes to sports, online streaming is here to stay. Garvey, for one, thinks the whole thing could only progress from this point forward.
“If anything, it’s going to improve. People just kind of keep perfecting it on how to use it and there’s obviously going to be people that are going to fight against it, but the Internet’s the Internet,” he said. “People are still going to be able to find a way to watch sports like that for free no matter where they are in the country, in the world.”
Garvey may have a point, as both Cooper and Anderson echoed similar thoughts. Anderson didn’t have an exact answer as to how these unauthorized websites could ever be completely shut down by government agencies and sports leagues.
“I don’t think that you’ll ever put an end to it all,” Anderson stated. “I think the names will change, but the problem will remain.”
Indeed, the name has changed, at least for ATDHE.net. Though shut down and seized by authorities, the site is back up under a new domain name. While it may not offer as many links as the original website, it still is serving the online public with unauthorized links to sporting events.
Daniel Feingold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.