It’s inevitable. One day in the not-too-distant future, sports fans in America and throughout the world will consume live sporting events exclusively via online streams.
It’ll take some time for the NFL to go full stream in the United States, because the planet’s richest sports league has the world’s most lucrative television broadcasting deals, and those don’t expire until after the 2022 season. But the league has become stream-friendly in a lot of ways of late — prime-time games have been available live on network websites to cable subscribers in the United States for several years and Amazon Prime reached a deal with the league this offseason to air live over-the-top digital streams of Thursday Night Football broadcasts.
NFL live streams have already become commonplace internationally in recent years thanks primarily to NFL Game Pass, a subscription-based video service provided and hosted by the league which launched in 2009. The platform offers international subscribers access to all preseason, regular season, and playoff games (blackouts notwithstanding), along with bells and whistles such as on-demand archives, coaches film, access to condensed games, split screen, a thorough search feature and the ability to jump from play to play and game to game (American subscribers aren’t able to live-stream games beyond the preseason but enjoy all of those features at a greatly reduced cost).
But the NFL is a moneymaking machine, so we should have known they’d reach a point at which they’d sell off online rights to highest bidders. That’s not yet easy to do with NBC, CBS, FOX and ESPN having so much say domestically, but the league did strike a deal this offseason with an on-demand sports streaming service called DAZN (pronounced “Da Zone”, per the London-based company) which now owns exclusive digital NFL rights in Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Japan.
According to data from the Global Web Index, there are about 14 million NFL fans in Canada and Germany combined. They’re two of the five largest international NFL markets. Considering that the league is clearly trying to spread its wings internationally, it’s important that it doesn’t alienate or rankle its fan bases in those regions.
Speaking as a Canadian NFL fan, I’m feeling a bit alienated and rankled.
This transition means Canadian TV providers can no longer offer NFL Sunday Ticket or NFL RedZone. So if you’d like access to every game every Sunday, you have to subscribe to DAZN. And the reality is that DAZN forces me to consume what has thus far felt like an inferior product to that of NFL Game Pass, which would be infuriating enough without considering the fact handcuffed DAZN subscribers in Canada have lost access to most of those bells and whistles which made NFL Game Pass so great.
Viewers can no longer watch multiple games at once with a split screen, they can no longer jump from play to play, they can no longer search for specific plays, teams or players, they can no longer access condensed games, and the archives are both difficult to navigate and lacking in depth.
At this admittedly early stage, the service is blatantly inferior, which is a shame considering that no other options exist.
And people are pissed.
I signed up for @DAZN_CA for NFL games. They better improve their picture quality DRASTICALLY by opening day or things will get very ugly…
— Robert Taylor (@RobbyLTaylor) August 23, 2017
It's also horribly laggy and unwatchable.
— FR0STYLive (@Frosty2Point0) August 17, 2017
— Jude Walker (@judewalker) August 15, 2017
— Trish (@TrishVancouver) August 23, 2017
— Justareader (@readaway123) August 12, 2017
— GO PACK GO! (@Leafs_PACK_Jays) August 13, 2017
— Devin (@SpartaKickk) August 13, 2017
— jimjonesjr (@ScootLamont) August 13, 2017
I believe you will see a major reduction in Canadians watching @NFL this season because of this.
— ＧＲＥＧ ? (@GBTRU) August 22, 2017
@NFL is there a way to watch games in Canada that isn't through that dazn or whatever it's called? Have heard nothing but bad things
— Me (@JustADadn) August 22, 2017
So that NFL deal with @DAZN_CA sure seems to be going well, huh?
— Brandon O'Connor (@BooferOC) August 22, 2017
Here. They admitted its only 25 fps. Likely to never improve Im guessing pic.twitter.com/hNH9SQraPA
— Fartface McGee (@bonerpiss) August 22, 2017
Boycott Dazn. Call NFL HO 1-212-450-2000. Qaulity is crap, time delayed etc etc. Please contact to void contract with Dazn.
— fred nagurski (@freakhawks) August 22, 2017
DAZN is the moon and NFL GamePass is the sun. Canada got eclipsed !
— Daniel Valente (@StatsGuyDaniel) August 21, 2017
So far the @DAZN_CA app isn't working very well in Canada I hope you guys figure out the NFL feed issues before it's too late!
— DJ Dom G (@DJDomG) August 21, 2017
Nope. No you are not. Basically everything you liked about GamePass is gone thanks to @DAZN_CA! Thanks guys for ruining NFL for Canada guys
— Cort Smith (@cortnall) August 19, 2017
— Brett Thurston (@BThurstee) August 20, 2017
It's going to be brutal, i'm so disappointed this happened. Watching NFL in Canada is now ruined.
— Jenny Nelson (@JennyNel3) August 20, 2017
What a disaster for NFL fans in Canada.
— Robert K. (@LaRussaGastro) August 19, 2017
Terrible deal for Canadian nfl fans. Not everyone is or wants to stream games. Lame
— Summer of George (@missyjeffries) August 20, 2017
— Raider Clay (@raiderclay) August 20, 2017
Only a couple weeks to improve stream quality before the NFL season starts. Come on, @DAZN_CA, you have to do better than this!
— CMS (@CMS93til) August 20, 2017
— Chris Terrio (@ceoterrio) August 20, 2017
Thanks for ruining nfl for all Canadians this service sucks. !!!!
— Nick (@cheatyking) August 20, 2017
— Dan Padbury (@Dannyovredose) August 20, 2017
— Lily S (@lilyinthe6ix) August 20, 2017
— Bootsy (@BobbyRusson) August 20, 2017
It's the worst service ever. What year is it? 1990. #getittogether
— Marcel (@MarcelGijbels) August 19, 2017
We're just as disappointed by this decision. The NFL sold all digital rights worldwide to DAZN. As part of the new https://t.co/t1wqyO8Iad
— RogersHelps (@RogersHelps) August 19, 2017
This is what the NFL does, takes something that isn't broken & tries to fix it. Case in point the NFL fantasy app last year. Major step back
— Sean Meade (@seanlocations) August 19, 2017
— StarrBoy (@McGuire72) August 19, 2017
@DAZN_CA Please sell back your product back to canadian tv providers. WE WANT NFL SUNDAY TICKET BACK- not a laggy pain in the ass stream
— Chris Cards (@CardsChris) August 19, 2017
— WalterFalls (@WalterFalls) August 19, 2017
— Champagne Paaji (@INSPVernacular) August 19, 2017
What a disaster for NFL fans in Canada.
— Robert K. (@LaRussaGastro) August 19, 2017
DAZN and @NFL have screwed over Canadian fans.
— Dr. Not Nenshi Esq? (@NotNenshi) August 19, 2017
So disappointed with DAZN I could puke! Blurry passing, grainy image at full speed. So choked about this NFL season! Brand new 65" smart tv
— West Coast (@fowlstone) August 19, 2017
— mark bennett (@thespinksjinx) August 19, 2017
— Ryan Shantz (@Shantzy1) August 19, 2017
Rip off , Canada NFL fans being left out.
— j (@pjays13) August 19, 2017
— FV (@FrankV83) August 18, 2017
@DAZN_CA you should be ashamed of yourselves for setting NFL viewers in Canada back 15yrs. Your service is shit!
— ErnieB. (@erniebugtweet) August 18, 2017
Can you sell your right back to the cable companies so we can get our LIVE sports back and have more than 2 feeds running. #ripoff
— Daniel Lyster (@dannylyster) August 18, 2017
— Pope (@BradPope47) August 18, 2017
That’s not to say DAZN is a complete disaster for NFL fans in Canada and the other countries under the service’s umbrella. The price (CA$20 per month or CA$150 annually) is right for that level of access, especially considering that nothing is blacked out. DAZN also pledges that the service will be available on pretty much any device you can imagine, and that the user experience will be stronger on a lot of those devices than it was with Game Pass. And they offer several other pro sports that almost nobody in Canada cares about, which might at least serve as a bonus for some users.
Alex Rice, DAZN’s Managing Director of Strategic Partnerships, did tell me that the company responded to social media and customer feedback after the first week of the preseason by making an effort to increase the quality of certain game feeds. The goal, he says, is for frame rates to match or exceed the levels that were offered by Game Pass. Latency (the lag behind real time) is an industry-wide problem, but it’s also something DAZN is trying to reduce.
Regarding features, Rice told me that user analysis data revealed that certain Game Pass functions (search, for example) weren’t heavily utilized by subscribers in Canada and elsewhere.
“We wanted to ensure that we were catering to a much broader audience,” he said, noting that DAZN is “trying to minimize huge overlays of information which can be too imposing, too clunky and too complicated” for users. But he says they’re still looking at adding more features over the course of the season.
Glass half-full? It’s the preseason for everybody. Here’s hoping DAZN bolsters its product and finds a way to offer subscribers more of the features they enjoyed when they were allowed to access and use NFL Game Pass.
But in case they don’t, there is a half-decent alternative for Rogers Cable subscribers in Canada who would prefer to take in live games without risking heavy pixelation, buffering and a real-time lag which makes it impossible to watch the action while on Twitter. TheScore.com explains:
Rogers has countered by offering its Super Sports Pak subscribers a time-shifting package that will give them access to NFL games on channels they might normally not be able to watch.
“We know our customers want to experience sports on a big screen in HD or 4K from the comfort of their living rooms, and we’ll continue to offer all the best weekly NFL matchups through customers’ regular cable subscriptions,” a Rogers spokesperson told theScore on Thursday.
Rogers estimates that customers will be able to watch up to half of the games on Sunday afternoon, and 60 percent of all NFL games in a given week.
Bell TV appears to be offering something similar. It’s better than nothing, and arguably way less of a headache.