NFL BEGINNING TO REALIZE IT’S SWIMMING UPSTREAM WITH SUNDAY TICKET SWITCH
On the Twitter page of DAZN Canada, the streaming service that had a disastrous debut as the home of NFL Sunday Ticket in this country, there was the following message posted from a viewer on Thursday night: “Working now thanks. Hope for the best in the future. I know all can be difficult. Wish the best.”
This was notable not just because it might be the nicest thing anyone has ever said to a corporate account on Twitter, but also because it came amid a stream of anger and abuse from others.
It has become something of a routine. Since DAZN, a U.K.based sports-focused streaming service, became the exclusive home of the NFL’s every-game-every-week package here, it has been subject to a litany of complaints about the quality of its service. The outcry began in the pre-season and reached its apex — or, from DAZN’s perspective, its nadir — on Sunday with viewers reporting error codes, audio problems, delayed feeds, fuzzy pictures and more skipping than a schoolyard.
DAZN, having taken some James Harrison-type headshots from its critics, has since apologized, as has the NFL, and Thursday it said many of the issues faced Sunday had been resolved. But for Canadians who have been lamenting they just want Sunday Ticket available again through non-digital means, there is a more significant bit of news coming from DAZN: they could be providing that, too.
“We are working very closely with the NFL on some solutions for that,” Alex Rice, DAZN’s managing director of strategic development, said in an interview Friday morning.
It’s too early to say what those solutions would be, though the most obvious would be allowing television service providers to offer Sunday Ticket like they did in seasons past and it’s unclear how soon that could happen. Not days, but weeks, most likely.
But whatever develops, it’s clear DAZN wasn’t prepared to provide this service in Canada and clear the NFL hadn’t fully considered the impact of selling its Sunday Ticket rights to a streaming-only service in the league’s second-biggest market. So yes, there are Roger Goodell blunders that don’t involve league discipline or franchise relocation. The problems with DAZN — and we should note here that this is as First World as problems get — affect two different types of NFL viewer.
The first are those who were willing to pay the relatively cheap $20 monthly fee, who are comfortable streaming to a phone or laptop or who view that stream on their television through a device like Apple TV or a game console. Those people just want it to work with a clear, smooth picture and minimal delay. It didn’t work for many subscribers on the opening weekend.
“It was a penalty flag that was well deserved,” Rice said of the initial blowback. “We realize we need to serve our users with a strong, stable, HD experience.”
But there is also the potential NFL viewer for whom the type of service offered by DAZN was never going to make sense, even if everything was going swimmingly with the streams it was providing. Canadians who have slow internet connections or data plans with any sort of a usage cap understandably recoil at the notion of streaming HD video for hours at a time. It’s those customers for whom DAZN and the NFL are considering alternative solutions. But there are not a lot of games in a football season and so to a diehard fan, every week counts. “I can tell you that we are working very, very hard on it,” Rice says.
All of this leads to broader questions about what the NFL thought it was getting itself into. Did it realize that a streaming only option was not going to work for a chunk of its fan base? Did it consider Sunday Ticket appeals only to its most devoted fans — those willing to pay handsomely for the right to watch out-of-market games — the exact fans who would be alienated if a digital service wasn’t a viable option for them? The NFL is used to attaching exclusivity to Sunday Ticket — in the United States, it is available only through the Direct TV satellite service — but that has been the case since its launch there more than 20 years ago. Here, Sunday Ticket has been widely available through most television providers and then suddenly it wasn’t. That way lies outrage.
(The NFL, quiet through much of this bluster from up north, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.)
For now, with the digital option the only one available, the question is whether DAZN can get through Sunday without another full-scale meltdown that leads to apologies and recriminations on Monday.
Though there were subscribers reporting problems during Thursday night’s Houston Cincinnati game, Rice says that DAZN expects a better experience on Sunday.
“We’re confident of some big improvements this weekend,” he says.
For the sake of those who handle the social-media accounts, one hopes so. Wish the best, you might say.
It was a penalty flag that was well deserved. We realize we need to serve our users with a strong, stable, HD experience.
Streaming service provider DAZN, which owns Sunday Ticket rights in Canada, has been blitzed with complaints over its opening week performance.