Illicit websites are undermining the AFL's record $1.25 billion broadcast deal by showing live streams of AFL matches.
The AFL has a five-year broadcast rights deal with Seven West Media (Channel Seven), Foxtel and Telstra.
But Fairfax Media is aware of websites that offer live streams of AFL matches, providing access at a click of the mouse to the Foxtel video feed and commentary team.
Links to the live streams are sometimes available through fan sites and forums. Some illegal sites operate on a subscription model which charges more for better quality feeds.
Users of the streams prefer the poor quality video and intrusive website advertising to paying for a Foxtel subscription.
The AFL's live streaming service is available locally on tablet and smartphone devices but not computers.
While it's unclear how many people are using these sites, they are a body blow to both the AFL and the broadcasters. Exclusive broadcast deals underpin the AFL's wealth; broadcasters use the rights to popular sports to promote their other programs.
Pay TV operator Foxtel – which has made a big investment to broadcast every game of this season live – has confirmed it is aware of AFL games being streamed illegally.
Spokesman Bruce Meagher said: "We are concerned about the unauthorised use of content that affects legitimate business models."
Fellow rights holder Telstra said on Monday night it was contacting the AFL to discuss the matter.
AFL spokesman Patrick Keane said when the AFL becomes aware of sites, it addresses them. "It's not something we see a lot of," he said.
The AFL's broadcast deal will expire in 2016, meaning negotiations for a new contract will heat up later this year. There has been some speculation that the AFL could look to the model in the US, where the sports themselves broadcast all matches online.
The comments come after Fairfax Media reported that national broadcaster SBS is seeking details of numerous rogue operators live-streaming coverage of the World Cup from Europe and the Middle East into Australia.
Foreign-language TV content providers have told Fairfax Media the live streaming of overseas TV channels has hurt their businesses over the past couple of years. But the online piracy has moved up the TV food chain to the World Cup, this year's biggest sporting event – and also Australia's most expensive sporting broadcast rights.