NFL BE­GIN­NING TO RE­AL­IZE IT’S SWIM­MING UPSTREAM WITH SUN­DAY TICKET SWITCH

Windsor Star - - SPORTS - SCOTT STIN­SON sstin­son@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/Scot­t_Stin­son

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 Ap­pleTV 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 streamin­gonly 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 Direc­tTV 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.

DAVID J. PHILLIP/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Stream­ing ser­vice provider DAZN, which owns Sun­day Ticket rights in Canada, has been blitzed with com­plaints over its open­ing week per­for­mance.

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