NFL Game Pass is the official video streaming service of the NFL.
NFL Game Pass is a premium service, with multiple versions available both inside, and outside of the USA. While the domestic (USA) version is limited to time delayed replays, the European version also offers live game streaming, as well as NFL Network and NFL Red Zone streaming, making it the ideal way to watch live NFL games in the UK and throughout Europe.
NFL Game Pass allows you to watch most games live and in HD, with PVR controls (pause, rewind, skip).
It includes streams of NFL RedZone channel and NFL Network. It also includes archived game footage for all 2017 season games, as soon as they air, and games from past seasons. It also offers condensed replays of games, allowing you to see every play of the game, without huddles, replays and additional commentary, in around 30 minutes.
It features archived NFL Network shows, to view on demand, which is a particularly nice feature, as live content can tend to be shown at awkward times of the night for UK Fans, and archived games going back several years.
The video quality is very good. A stable 1-3 megabit connection will ensure you are able to receive a good quality stream, and an 5-8 megabit will give you 720p HD video at 60 frames per second. In past seasons, NFL Game Pass has been powered by Neulion, who were experts at providing HD streams of live content. For the 2017 season, NFL Game Pass has been brought in house, and is powered by a new HTML5 based system. During preseason, NFL Game Pass streams have been largely stable, and are encoded and delivered to your system in HD quality, with only around a 30 second delay from broadcast. This means you can follow fantasy football or twitter during the game without fear of having big plays spoiled for you—the live stream is on your computer quicker than the fastest tweeters could type 144 characters. However, as this is still a new system, and preseason games are unlikely to have taxed the system to its fullest, we will see if this remains the case once the regular season begins.
The video looks great if connected to a HDTV using a VGA or HDMI cable, and even better if you have access to a projector. It is easily good enough quality to be blown up to 100″ plus if your projector is of good enough quality to do so.
You receive Fox, CBS, NBC, or ESPN’s local streams, including US adverts. I understand, and in some ways like, this decision, but at times do wish that they can find a way to offer local adverts to the country where you live—especially if this helps reduce the costs or reduce blackouts. Watching adverts is tedious at the best of times, but ads for products and services which are not available in your country seems like a real exercise in futility, especially since switching to a relevant stream of local adverts does not seem like an overly difficult technological ask.
Using The Service
The newly redesigned website is relatively easy to use, and pretty straightforward to navigate. Switching between streams is simple, and can be done with very little buffering time required before the stream starts to play. Fans who have used previous versions of the service may have a little difficulty finding where things are in the new layout, but overall it is intuitive, and straightforward,
The new NFL Game Pass is powered by HTML5, rather than the outdated Adobe flash, which is a great decision. It means that the video can be played natively on most internet connected devices with a web browser through the website, without needing any specific apps to do so. HTML5 is universal, and requires much less processing power than flash, vastly improving support. This is a huge step forward compared to previous years, where flash was a real limiting factor.
However, the switch to HTML5 has not been without some loss of functionality. Picture in picture and quad-box viewing options, allowing you to follow multiple games at once, appear to be missing at this point.
Additionally, unlike previous desktop versions of Game Pass, there is no manual quality selector. This is potentially problematic for users with capped broadband plans, who want to watch games at lower quality to preserve bandwidth.
However, these are small prices to pay for the overall benefits HTML5 brings.
Phone/Tablet/Smart TV Support
NFL Game Pass also offers good support for Android and iOS based phones and tablets through dedicated apps. Virtually all of the features available to desktop users are available through the intuitive native apps. The updated apps seem much more stable and reliable than previous versions, which is a welcome addition, and quality is great.
Perhaps the biggest benefit for mobile users, is AirPlay and ChromeCast support for AppleTV or ChromeCast owners providing the simplest possible way to stream to your TV. A native Apple TV App is available for newer model Apple TV’s, but AirPlay and ChromeCast support is also nice, especially as it allows games to be streamed to the many other devices supporting these protocols.
NFL have upgraded their tablet and mobile apps for 2017 and now more than ever mirror the features available on the desktop version. A full selection of Archived content are all available for tablets and mobiles, and the app is much easier to navigate. Additionally, since moving from NeuLion, the stream quality on mobile seems identical to that available on desktop, which is a very welcome addition.
One area mobile apps do trump the browser, is in allowing games to be downloaded to be watched later when you may not have a reliable internet connection. Since a condensed game can be watched in around 30 minutes, this is great for anyone who regularly commutes on trains or busses with limited or non-existent internet connections.
Aside from the aforementioned AirPlay/ChromeCast support, other smart TV support is currently notable for its omission. NFL have promised support for Samsung and LG smart TVs is coming later in the season, but for owners of these TVs now, this is not an ideal situation. Additionally, while Xbox app is currently working, the PS4 equivalent remains unavailable at this point. While some of this can certainly be put down to the switch from NeuLion, in truth, connected TV support has always been limited, and patchy at best, and looks set to continue to be so, at least for a little while.
However, the good news for many users is that the move to HTML5 means that dedicated apps are not always necessary any more. Most devices that feature a web browser and have HTML5 Video support will be able to use NFL Gamepass, which includes many smart set top boxes, devices like the Raspberry Pi, and much more besides. Even officially unsupported smart phones and tablets can often run the mobile version of the website with no issues at all. Many newer TVs and set top boxes are now powered by a version of Android and feature a full-featured web browser, meaning that even those which do not have access to the full Google Play store may still be able to stream games via the web browser with no issues at all. This is a real welcome addition.
Availability and Limitations
NFL Game Pass is available in most European countries. In the United States and its territories, A service called Game Pass is available, but it is purely a replay-service and is not interchangeable with “European” versions of Game Pass (like Netflix). In Canada, as well as a small number of additional countries, NFL content is now only available through a new service called DAZN (Pronounced Da Zone) which offers many sports in addition to NFL, at a very good price. However, subscribing to this service, even while using a VPN, is quite difficult without a Canadian, German, Swiss, Austrian, or Japanese billing address, meaning for most people, Game Pass remains the best way to subscribe. Nonetheless, we are currently attempting to see if there are ways to subscribe to DAZN from outside of these countries, as the service seems very good.
However, for most fans in Europe, (and the rest of the world, via VPN) NFL Game Pass Europe is a very good option for NFL Fans.
However, in the UK, there are restrictions and limitations you need to be aware of.
Firstly, Sunday Night games which are (scheduled to be) broadcast on Sky Sports are unfortunately blacked-out and can only be watched on demand 24 hours after broadcast. This is a problem, especially on those (admittedly rare) occasions where Sky change their intended broadcast without much notice, or cut away from a game early. In these circumstances, even though the game is not actually being broadcast anywhere in the UK at the time, the games have historically remained blacked out and unavailable.
Fortunately, this does not affect games broadcast on other UK broadcasters, or Sky Sports games shown on other days of the week (only the two main Sunday Games) but still means any fan wanting to ensure they have access to all games throughout a season need to purchase both NFL Game Pass and a Sky Sports subscription.
Fortunately, the FAQs seem to indicate that this will no longer apply to playoff games, a very welcome change, but this remains to be seen, as in previous seasons NFL Game Pass has indicated that playoffs would be available, only to change this later in the season, so fans counting on this still being true come playoff time should be warned.
Both of these restrictions can be bypassed by the use of European based VPN or Smart DNS servers—and we recommend most UK or non-european fans who want unrestricted access invest in a VPN service. However, they can sometimes be less successful on tablets and mobile apps, which sometimes use addition GPS or cellular location services as well as IP-based Geolocation, and since no pre-season games have been blacked out yet, it has been impossible to test this so far. In our experience, however, Smart DNS and VPN servers have been successful for us, and we particularly recommend HMA VPN*
Another limitation is that only one concurrent login is allowed. This is, of course, to prevent several people sharing an account, and is understandable, but the way this is handled is problematic. Instead of handling it like most other streaming services, and warning people that another user is logged in and asking them to log out of the other device first, it instead allows you to log in, and kicks out the other user.
This may not seem like a big deal, but simply opening the app on your TV, phone or tablet, or visiting the website in another browser or on another computer, can be enough to kick you out of the service, even if you never actually watch anything.
Lets say you have friends around watching the game on your TV using Game Pass and your Media Centre PC. You have some vested interest in another game, so you’re checking the score board regularly. You try to go to NFL.com on your laptop, but your browser auto-completes this to nflgamepass.com, and takes you to that site instead, and because your login is saved, it triggers a time-out on your media centre. You now have to log back in, and re-start the stream, a multi-step process on your media centre PC. If that happens in an ad break, it’s annoying, but on third-and-goal from the 3, with the game on the line, you’re going to lose some friends over it!
Additionally, while not a real availability limitation, per-se users with limited data packages, either on their home broadband or cellular data may find themselves unable to really use Game Pass. NFL Game Pass is a bandwidth hog, and will quickly eat into your data allowance if you are not on an unlimited broadband, 3G, or 4G data package. A typical high quality NFL Game Pass stream can easily use 1-4 GB of data per hour, and considering live games run for 7-8 hours on a sunday, this can quickly add up. NFL Game Pass used to offer an option to reduce the stream quality to save data, but this is no longer an option, and it will automatically use as much bandwidth as is available. So if you have fast internet, but limited data available, Game Pass may not work well for you for very long. There are ways to throttle the speed of your network connection in some routers, or in your desktop OS, but this is an overly technical, and cludgey solution to something that used to be available with a single click from within the app.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is also worth mentioning that if you are in the UK you will require a TV License to view the live content, even on your computer or mobile device. Put simply, under new guidelines, the UK TV Licensing Authority don’t care that the stream originates outside of the UK, as long as it is broadcast live or “as live” by any means. If you are watching live games, even on your phone, or laptop, streamed over the internet, from outside the UK, you now technically need a TV license. Going forward, this may change, as services like Twitch.tv and Facebook Live continue to blur the lines between what constitutes “live TV” and how far the TVLA’s authority stretches, but for now, assume that if you are watching NFL Games live, by any means, without a TV license in the UK, you are breaking the law, even if you pay for Game Pass completely legitimately.
Reliability and Support
Unfortunately, though the quality of the service is great, when it works, the reliability, in the past has, left more than a little to be desired. In previous seasons, throughout the week, the service works great, but on more than a few occasions, when it comes to live game-day streaming there were serious issues. Many of these issues persisted into throughout the NFL’s partnership with NeuLion, which may be part of the reason for the change in 2017.
Throughout the preseason, we have not experienced any of the issues that have plagued the service in the past, however, it is important to note that pre-season should really be considered a “soft launch” as far fewer fans watch the live preseason games, compared to regular season, so fans are advised to exercise caution about the stability, reliability, and quality they should expect during the regular season, until the new service is really put under load. Week 1 will be an interesting test, and we will update this article at that point.
Additionally some issues were not directly related to the Game Pass service—for example when, Sky Sports change their planned broadcast last-minute, or cutting away from a game early, but it still being blacked out on Game Pass, or interruptions with the US Broadcasters—and the blackout rules and method of securing the streams has not changed, meaning that these issues will continue to persist even on the new system.
However, in the past what all of the issues had in common was the terrible support and customer services offered when this happened.
NeuLion were notoriously slow to respond, and consistently unavailable during key times when issues occurred. The new support team, in our limited dealings with them, seem much better, more helpful, and quicker to respond, but again, we will see how this continues once regular season starts, and the inevitable issues begin to creep into the service.
There is no two ways about it… NFL Game Pass is not cheap.
If you want to watch a full season, you’re going to have to pay for the privilege.
Although in previous years, NFL Game Pass had multiple tiers of service, starting in 2017, they have only 2 offerings
Season Pro is the top tier service, and includes every single game—except showing live on Sky Sports, as previously discussed—from preseason to the Super Bowl live, and on demand (though in the past live post-season games were unavailable unless you use a VPN service. NFL have been unclear on whether this will be the case in 2017). It also includes live and on demand NFL Network content, NFL Red Zone on game day, condensed “game in 40” replays, archived games and NFL Network/NFL Films content and Coaches Film from every game. It is priced at £139.99 for the full season, or £14.99 weekly at the start of the season, though this often reduces as the season progresses.
For several years NFL have been adding features, while holding or reducing this cost year on year as they seek to expand the NFL’s presence in the UK. However 2017 is definitely higher for many people, but they are definitely offering significantly more for your money in a lot of ways.
However, in spite of this, by the time you have added on the cost of a Sky Sports subscription, or premium VPN service to ensure you can view every game, you are looking at an expensive service.
This is not an issue, per-se—it is still cheaper than the equivalents like NFL Sunday Ticket which are available to American fans (Approx £250 for the season), but it is still something you want to think twice before committing to—remember, once you have started your subscription, there are no easy refunds. This is also made particularly difficult to swallow, since in countries DAZN is available, its service, which includes NFL as well as dozens of other sports, clocks in at only around £100.
Small savings can sometimes be made by choosing to pay in alternative currencies, depending on the current exchange rate, while purchasing through in-app purchase on the iOS and android apps is often significantly more expensive.
For 2017, a new package is also available, called “Essential”, however this is very hard for us to recommend.
Essential is a budget oriented option, which offers a single live game each week, and a single full replay. This is chosen by NFL Staff (you cannot simply select your favourite team’s game each week). It does include live NFL Network coverage, meaning that you will also get live coverage of every game shown on the network (select Monday and Thursday night games throughout the season) but as you do not get access to archived NFL Network content, unless you watch it live, you will not be able to replay these games either. It does give you access to condensed replays of every game, so if you are a very casual fan, with no particular allegiance to any team, this may be a way to get a little more knowledgable about the game, before jumping up to the full package at a later date, but at £84.99, the small difference in price makes it hard to justify the big difference in available content, and for most, this package is hard to really justify!
NFL Game Pass is by far the best—and only legal—way to watch every NFL game live in the UK. If you are a fan of a team in a smaller market, whose games are rarely shown on Sky Sports, then it is a great way to watch, compared to combing the internet for low quality streams which are liable to be shut down at any point.
Historically, we also shied away from recommending top tier subscriptions, however, NFL have finally reached a balance of price and service that we can definitely justify the upgrade for people who previously purchased lower tier packages, and their new lowest tier package is almost impossible to recommend. Though it is true that the flexibility some of the older tiers offered in was good, the price to feature balance they have struck for the new Season Pro package makes sense for most users.
Fans of the sport, with no allegiance to a particular team, would likely be better served just watching the regular weekly broadcasts, and may get some benefit from the essential package but for fans who support any team, who are active in Fantasy Football, or who are heavily invested in the whole league, NFL Game Pass is a must.
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