NFL Game Pass

Ahead of this season, the NFL made big changes to its streaming products in Europe and Canada, turning the European version of NFL Game Pass over to new developer Deltatre and eliminating the Canadian one in favor of a new service from DAZN (which also took over Sunday Ticket rights). Both of those changes have gone very poorly, with regular complaints about outages and issues with the new services; in Europe, Deltatre got in trouble for asking its employees to write fake five-star reviews of the app to try and overcome the slew of one-star reviews they were getting, and in Canada, DAZN eventually had to license Sunday Ticket back to some pay TV providers after constant outcry about problems with the streaming-only service.

The latest update on the European situation, from Max Rettig of SportTechie, is that things are still going incredibly poorly:

Last month, an “enhanced” Game Pass product was announced, allowing European customers to livestream NFL games and access exclusive content. But the app that fans are encouraged to use to access games has experienced technical difficulties and has also been rocked by a scandal of sorts created by its own developer.

Tech issues with the app, created by deltatre, reportedly made it hard for subscribers to watch games. Issues had been occurring throughout the season, but the inability of fans to watch numerous weeks worth of games made Game Pass Europe take notice.

Because of the technical problems, subscribers were refunded 20 percent of the original 140-pound annual cost. According to an email sent to subscribers by Game Pass and published by The Independent, individual subscribers would be issued the partial refund unconditionally, even if they experienced no issues.

You know it’s bad when a company is willing to hand out a partial refund across the board. That 20 percent refund isn’t going to be enough to make everyone happy, though, especially considering that issues were still ongoing this week:

And many are still mad:

Meanwhile in Canada, people are still mad about DAZN. (Which, we should note, has quite the interesting corporate structure involving Perform and The Sporting News, as Yahoo’s Daniel Roberts explored this summer.)

And while the NFL maintains it vetted them, similar issues previously arose with DAZN’s J-League soccer coverage in Japan. Morgan Campbell of The Toronto Star has more on the DAZN issues in Canada:

The 75-inch TV in Wendell Waldron’s Regina home is perfect for viewing football, but these days he watches his beloved San Francisco 49ers on a small tablet. It’s the only device in his home that streams DAZN’s NFL Sunday Ticket broadcasts without pausing or cutting out.

…When the season started, Canadians subscribers reported a litany of problems:

  • Streams lagging as many as four minutes behind live action.
  • Downloads too slow to keep up with game action, leading to pixilated images, paused streams and outright crashes.
  • Games airing without audio, or with commentary in languages other than English.

“It’s taken away from my enjoyment of the game,” says Waldron, a Mississauga native who moved to Regina in 2013. “I was getting even more buffering issues last week . . . There’s a major problem here.”

The NFL maintains it vetted DAZN and felt confident it could deliver the content reliably, but Canadian users’ complaints echo the ones raised by fans in Japan when DAZN took over rights to J-League soccer broadcasts earlier this year.

For its part, DAZN insists its technology is sound, and that the highly-publicized glitches affected a small percentage of subscribers. The company says it didn’t account for disparities in connectivity speeds before launching in Canada, and has worked to tailor its streams accordingly.

Campbell’s piece also illustrates continued issues with DAZN and other streaming services, though, and how the lag in particular (which tends to exist even when a streaming service is running smoothly, but can get more notable if the service is having issues) affects sports viewing habits:

DAZN might appeal to cord-cutters who still crave live sports, but disappointed customers say the service ignores habits that define contemporary sports viewership.

While in-game tweeting has become part of the viewing experience for many fans, streaming delays can turn Twitter into a non-stop string of spoilers for DAZN customers.

“I had to shut off all my notifications,” [Gianfranco] Schirripa said. “I was relegated to using my Twitter during commercial breaks because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being told something before it actually happened.”

And where fantasy football enthusiasts often toggle quickly between games to stay updated, DAZN’s interface makes that type of channel surfing inconvenient.

Those are problems that stretch beyond just DAZN and NFL Game Pass. Even ESPN3, one of the more robust streaming services out there thanks to the BAMTech technology involved, regularly experiences lag and crashes, as do most other networks’ streaming options. Streaming is becoming a more and more prominent aspect of the way we consume sports, and is likely to continue, as cord-cutting in favor of subscriptions to streaming packages just keeps growing.

But streaming still has significant issues compared to TV, especially for high-demand events like the NFL, and that’s even true with a reliable company, interface and technology. It’s perhaps much more the case when you wind up working with someone like Deltatre, where the perceived best way to fix your product is to tell employees to write fake reviews promoting it. And with DAZN, maybe it isn’t the best plan to try and force everyone to abandon cable packages they know and like in favor of a streaming-only product.

That raises questions about the NFL’s overall approach here. Their previous NFL Game Pass products weren’t perfect, but they had quite a significant fanbase. Opting to sell rights to DAZN with no TV option for Sunday Ticket (at first) and to Deltatre may have helped the league’s bottom line, but it hasn’t been great for the NFL’s reputation in either Canada or Europe. And that may wind up costing them in the long run.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.