NFL Game Pass is the NFL’s premium streaming service for fans outside of the USA. It allows fans to watch most NFL games live and in HD, receive NFL Network content and watch NFL RedZone and NFL Network Live as well. It is a paid service, costing around £100 per year. You can read our full review here.
Given the high price, many fans are therefore very disappointed, and annoyed to discover that two live games per week and the entire NFL Playoffs are subject to blackouts—games which are not available to watch live in the UK. Users in Canada are subject to similar blacklouts. Blackouts are caused by the NFL’s exclusive partnership with regional TV partners, meaning that the games showing on Sky Sports are not allowed to be broadcast live by anyone else in the UK, including the NFL themselves, via Game Pass.
This means if you are a fan of a team regularly featured by Sky as either of their main games, you are going to have to shell out for a Sky Sports subscription in addition to your Game Pass subscription if you want to watch all of your teams regular season games. And if your team makes the playoffs, Sky Sports is the only place you can see your team live in the UK.
Worse still, the service is not even available in the USA at all, leaving fans wishing to watch teams outside of their own local area tied to expensive Cable TV Packages with add-ons like NFL Sunday Ticket.
Fortunately, NFL Game Pass is also available in countries with no blackout restrictions, so streams for all of the games do exist, you just need to convince the website or app you’re allowed to access them.
There are multiple ways to do this, but the two most popular are Smart DNS services, and VPN’s. We will explain how both work, and give you the pros and cons of both.
Out Recommended VPN:
HideMyAss VPN*: HideMyAss (HMA) is one of the earliest and most well-known servers used to hide internet traffic. Although it offers a free web proxy service, it is their VPN server which will allow you to unblock NFL Game Pass, and other streaming services. HMA offer over 940 VPN servers in 350 locations around the world. They offer over 120,000+ IP addresses in total, so if one ever gets flagged and will not allow you to log in to GamePass, simply choose another, and away you go. HMA is fast enough for most streaming, easy to use and effective, with great customer support. HMA offer at IP Addresses in every state in the USA, ensuring you can access local news and information for you favourite team, with no problems.
How does it work?
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network is a secure way of connecting to a local network via the internet. Primarily, they are used in business to allow employees access to their secure network while working away from the office, but have recently seen growth both in online gaming and as a means of unblocking websites and services which are unavailable in certain regions.
This works because once connected to the VPN, all outside traffic is routed through the VPN Server. Therefore, if you connect to a VPN based, such as in the Netherlands, as you browse the internet, websites will treat your computer as if was physically connected to that router in the Netherlands.
An easy, if imperfect, analogy is to imagine that it turns your internet connection into one long ethernet cable, directly plugged into a router in another location.
There are two main types of VPN service, OpenVPN and PPTP, though there are other protocols also available. PPTP is supported by default on most operating systems, phones and tablets, but is an older protocol, which has some serious drawbacks. OpenVPN is a newer protocol, but is not supported out of the box by most operating systems and devices, and needs extra software, which may not be available for all devices. Most VPN providers offer both options, but this is not always the case.
VPN servers can be both free and paid, with varying levels of support, options and speed.
Unblock Anything – VPN services are very useful for accessing all kinds of blocked sites, not just NFL Game Pass. Because all content is being routed through an internet connection in another country, all content available in that country should be available to you. This can be useful for unblocking services like Hulu based in the USA, or accessing BitTorrent trackers recently blocked at an ISP level.
Boost Privacy and Security – Additionally, VPN servers theoretically offer vastly increased security and privacy. Because all traffic is routed through the VPN server, the website or service you are accessing should never be able to see your IP address, and link your online activity back to you. In practice, this is not always the case, depending on how the VPN servers are configured, and the logs the VPN server keep, but at least in theory, you have added privacy.
Appear to be Located Anywhere – Finally, most paid VPN servers give you a great deal of choice as to where in the world you want to seem to be located, with servers all over the world. This allows you to take advantage of offers, services and sites limited to certain countries. You can connect, for example, to a Dutch VPN to unblock a blacked out game on Game Pass, and then re-connect to a US based server to watch some shows on Hulu.
Cost – High quality VPN services can be very expensive compared to similar Smart DNS solutions. A good quality VPN can cost between £5-15 per month, whereas most Smart DNS solutions cost between £1.50-5.
Speed – There is a performance hit just by using a VPN, as it uses is a secure, encrypted connection, so all data sent over it needs to be encrypted and decrypted. Typically, even the best VPN servers result in a 20% reduction in your broadband speed.
Also, as all the traffic, of all the users connected to that server, is coming through that single connection, streaming video can be painfully slow on cheaper or free services during busy times. Again as an analogy, imagine you can stream quite happily with one or two computers connected to your home network, but once you have four or five computers, phones etc all connected, it gets much slower—the same thing can happen with a VPN. Additionally, don’t forget these are used for hiding and unblocking all traffic (including increasing numbers of people using VPNs for bit torrent downloading). Unfortunately, many of the servers which are useful for unblocking NFL Game Pass are also servers located in countries with relaxed Bit Torrent policies, which tend to be used a lot for bit torrent downloading, a major bandwidth hog.
Free VPNs May Decrease Security and Privacy – FInally, while VPNs theoretically increase privacy and security greatly—and in most cases they do—you are still having to trust the VPN server owner not to be logging your usage. Because everything you do is sent via their servers, some free VPN servers have been known to be set up and used by less than scrupulous people, who have used them to steal your personal information, log your activity and even gain control of your computer. Remember, connecting to a VPN can be like being attached to the same local network as everyone else connected to the same server. If not properly configured, you could be exposing the contents your computer to a lot of people when you connect to a free VPN service.
Put simply, we do not recommend free VPN services, and would not suggest they are a good way to unblock NFL Game Pass or any other paid service. We would also never input a username or password while connected to a free VPN.
Some Smart DNS services we recommend:
Unblock-US*: Unblock-US is a smart DNS service with a huge compatibility list. Unlike AdFreeTime, its focus has always been unblocking US and international restricted video content. It does not offer services like Ad Blocking, allowing it to keeping everything focused solely on unblocking as many sites as possible. As a result, its compatibility list is much greater than that of AdFreeTime. Like AdFreeTime, it unblocks all blacked out games on GamePass, but also offers access to sites like 4OD and TVPlayer, as well as many more. If you regularly travel outside of the UK and miss UK shows while you are gone, this is an amazing way to keep up with your UK telly while you are away from home. Unlike AdFreeTime, it offers a one week free trial. We have used Unblock-US extensively, and have no hesitation recommending it, especially if you feel you will take advantage of the additional channels offered.
How does it work?
Smart DNS is a new way to unblock websites and services which are geographically restricted. A DNS server is the server which translates the URL you type into your web browser (e.g. http://gridironfans.co.uk) into the IP address of the computer/server where the site is actually located. It is also responsible for facilitating that connection.
Smart DNS Servers work by tricking the site you are trying to connect to into believing you are connecting from a different IP address, in a different location, without actually routing the bulk of the data through that server.
As most geolocation services which sites like NFL Game Pass rely on are fairly simple, and easily fooled, this is usually enough to grant you access to blocked websites or streams.
Each Smart DNS server will have its own “compatibility list” which may change over time, as sites are updated and changed. Certain updates to websites can break their compatibility, and while new hacks are usually found quickly, there is no guarantee that it will always have 100% compatibility with every site. Many focus on Netflix, Hulu, iPlayer, and other “free” streaming services primarily, but a growing number also support premium services like Game Pass.
Speed – As these are not VPN servers, with no encryption and only minimal re-routing of data, there is very little slow-down compared to VPNs. Typically, the only slowdown you will see, if at all, is during the initial loading phases—the time between when you hit enter after typing a URL, and the time it starts to actually load the page—and even here, you are only talking about a fraction of a second. Almost no data is rerouted through their servers, so most of the time, you can take full advantage of all of your available bandwidth.
Price – Compared to VPNs, Smart DNS servers are also much cheaper to run. As such a small amount of data actually goes through them, they have much higher capacity than VPNs, meaning far fewer servers, each with much less horsepower are needed to deliver the results. Typically, a smart DNS service will cost less than half that of an basic VPN service.
Additional Content Filtering – Some Smart DNS services also offer additional content filtering. For example, certain ads, malware sites, and tracking information can be intercepted and filtered out. Others are able to filter out certain redirects and phishing or spoof sites.
Virtually Every Device Supported – Unlike VPN solutions, virtually every device can be supported, with no additional software required. As long as your router allows you to modify your DNS server list (almost all of them do) then each and every device connected via this router, either by WiFi or ethernet cable is also using the service. This is very useful for—for example—older mobile phones or tablets with limited or no VPN support, smart TVs and Set Top Boxes, and Gaming Consoles which usually do not have VPN support.
No Encryption and Limited Security Enhancements – Aside from basic content filtering Smart DNS services do little to protect you online. Your connection is not encrypted, as with VPNs, meaning your ISP will still know what you are doing, and your IP address (your online identity) is not hidden, meaning the servers can still trace your activity back to you. They will do nothing, for example, to prevent illegal P2P downloads from being traced back to you, and will not hide your browsing activity from anyone.
Limited Customisation Options – Most smart DNS services select the spoofed location automatically on a per-site basis—you cannot choose where you wish to appear located. In most cases, this is fine, because the service is only available in one location anyway, but for world-wide services like NFL Game Pass can have some drawbacks.
For example, you can sometimes use a VPN service to get access to cheaper package available only in select countries—in the past this has included free subscriptions in some places—whereas with a smart DNS service, you are stuck with your physical location, or the location they have chosen to spoof. Worse still, on occasion some services have chosen locations which, on the one hand unblock Blacked-out games, but which have simultaneously blocked access to things like NFL Red Zone, which was not available in the spoofed country at the time. While some let you choose your region, this usually only affects Netflix, not services like NFL Game Pass.
Limited Compatibility – As these services rely on server-based hacks to spoof the location on a per-site basis, not every geo-fenced service is unblocked. You have to wait for them to add compatibility to the specific service, if they are able to before you can use it.
Worse still, on occasions, sites will be updated in such a way that it breaks compatibility with the smart DNS service. While this is usually fixed quite quickly, there is never a guarantee if or when it will be repaired. Furthermore, although all current IP Geolocation services are fairly easily fooled by this method, there is no guarantee that a new location method will not be found which will not be possible to bypass using Smart DNS—if this happens, and content providers add it en-masse, these services could become useless. This cannot happen with VPN.
* All links marked with Asterisk (*) are classified as Connection 2 according to our Disclosure of Material Connection.
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