How to Watch Blackout Games with a VPN

If your internet service provider drops the ball and assigns you an IP address that isn’t close to your actual location, even a premium sports streaming subscription might not be enough to protect you from a fake game dropout. But a quality virtual private network can quickly fix that IP address geoblocking error and get you back in the game — while protecting your high-definition playback from speed throttling by your ISP.

Accidental or false blackouts are so common that instructions on how to fix the problem can be found on the ESPN, MLB, NHL, NFL, and NBA official websites. For sports fans streaming games online, most blackouts are now enforced by checking your IP address for its relative geographic origin. So if your mobile operator or internet service provider assigns you a dynamic IP address within a blackout range, the sports streaming site you are trying to watch may be incorrectly preventing you from tuning in to your game.

“Your location is determined by your IP address. If you’re connecting to a mobile device and think you’re receiving blackout messages in error, try connecting over Wi-Fi,” ESPN says on its Blackout page.

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Longtime MLB watchers have felt the frustration of bewildering game failures for years as broadcast regulations have changed from their 2014 US standards and new broadcast deals have taken root. On their troubleshooting page for false blackout errors, MLB even points out that VPNs — which are common among sports streaming fans — should be set to your correct no-blackout range.

“When you access the Internet through a VPN connection (or other secure network connection), you may receive a blackout message because the host IP address for the VPN is within the restricted range for the game you are accessing want to access.” says the site.

While MLB’s broadcast clutter may have drawn more attention over the years, the NFL and NBA have similarly struggled with geo-blocked broadcast issues. So do hockey fans – who seem to have some of the most complicated lockdown plans to navigate.

As ISPs and cable providers rush to catch up with better geotechs, you don’t have to wait. How to use a VPN to overcome inaccurate blackout restrictions.

1. Choose the right VPN for sports streaming

Choosing the VPN that best suits your own sports streaming habits is as easy as answering three questions. First, what device am I most likely to use while watching a game? Second, do I plan to stream games internationally? And finally, do I care about high speeds?

As our current Editors’ Choice, ExpressVPN has a number of qualities that most sports streamers will find useful for all of the above criteria. The VPN’s platform compatibility is exceptional, including support for a long list of streaming consoles and smart TVs. Its impressive fleet of over 3,000 servers spread across 160 locations in 94 countries also means you can find viable IP addresses in more locations than most VPNs offer.

To top it off, ExpressVPN’s speeds are among the fastest we’ve measured. The custom Lightway encryption protocol also protects your connection from sudden drops and interruptions – regardless of the quality of your internet connection at home. Both features make it useful for data-intensive tasks like live HD streaming, where every second of slow-mo counts.

When looking at the other VPNs we recommend, pay attention to the criteria above: device compatibility, a network big enough to ensure a working IP address, and a solid speed test score for smooth viewing.

Continue reading: Best VPN for your Smart TV

2. Install your VPN and connect to a server where the game is currently available

Once you’ve chosen a VPN of your liking and signed up for the service, the rest is easy. All of the VPNs in our recommended providers list offer an easy way to download their VPN apps directly from their websites. And for a VPN to earn our recommendation, it must offer subscribers convenient and friendly customer service.

Installing a VPN on your smart TV often feels a little more cumbersome — using a remote control is always less convenient than a quick mouse click or phone tap. Because of this, CNET has some helpful articles if you’re in unfamiliar territory. Check out our super simplified guide to setting up a VPN on your smart TV, where we’ve listed five easy ways to get you started.

Are you an Amazon Fire TV Stick fan? No problem. Many solid VPNs are Fire TV compatible and we have a guide to simplify the setup process.

Continue reading: How to set up a VPN on your Amazon Fire TV Stick

3. Connect to a server and log into your streaming account

Once you have downloaded and installed the VPN on your display device, all you have to do is open the VPN app and select your city where your game is available. Easy.

Then log into your subscribed sports streaming account as usual. And just like that! — You should have no trouble viewing the game as you normally would.

Quick fixes to common problems

Installed a VPN, selected your city in the VPN app, and signed into your service – but you’re still getting a blackout message? No reason for frustration yet. First, try one of these 30-second quick fixes.

  • If you have your VPN installed on a smart TV, log out of your sports streaming service completely, then completely close all apps and restart the TV completely. Once you turn the TV back on, the first thing you should do is open your VPN app and select the city you want. That sets the stage for your subscribed sports streaming service to get your VPN’s IP address first. Now try to open your streaming service and log in.
  • Once you have the VPN installed on your laptop, tablet, or phone, you should log out of your streaming services, close all browsers, and turn off any active GPS location services. Then open your browser again and clear all cookies and cache. Then close your browser, restart your device completely and – before opening another app – open your VPN and connect to the desired city. After that, you can open your browser or other apps and log into your streaming service. If you need a refresher, here’s how to clear your browser cache on mobile and Google Chrome. (We have a matching guide for iPhone users.)

Still problems? Don’t hesitate to ping customer service. Serious. This is one of the most common uses for any VPN. When you’re paying for a premium service with 24/7 customer support, there’s nothing more satisfying than having a pro fix a midgame streaming issue quickly—even before the commercial break is over.


What types of blackouts are there?

There are different types of blackouts which are mostly found in Canada, India, UK and USA. In the US, some power outages are used to ensure local broadcasters get the rights to air locally played games first. other blackouts target viewers to spur purchases of cable TV packages; and still other blackouts (such as blackouts at NFL games) are aimed at increasing viewership in the stands.

Is It Legal to Use a VPN to Watch Sports Games?

Yes! Using a VPN to watch or stream sports games is legal in every country where VPNs are legal, including the US and Canada, as long as you have a legitimate subscription to the service you are streaming. And using a VPN to assign yourself an IP address that correctly reflects your actual location probably won’t draw the wrath of a streaming site. However, if you’re considering using a VPN to bypass game failures while you’re physically in a blackout area, you should understand the risks. Subscribers to ESPN, MLB, NBA, NHL and other services should read the Terms of Service documents. Most of these organizations openly state on their websites that if you’re caught trying to trick the service to bypass a power outage, you could face account termination and a fine from the company.

Why should I use a VPN to stream sports?

Using a VPN to stream your subscribed sports games can help you in a few important ways. First, when your ISP has assigned you an IP address that’s in the wrong city, it’s the easiest way to overcome inaccurate game failures. If you’ve ever noticed that your internet speed seems to slow down during popular games, you may be the victim of internet speed throttling from your ISP – another problem that a VPN quickly solves. Finally, a VPN protects your privacy by thwarting many third-party data brokers and ad trackers. That means no more spooky post-game ads. Score.

Do NFL Sunday Ticket and Game Pass subscribers have Blackout games?

Yes, NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers are subject to canceled games. For those subscribers through DirecTV, you will be blocked from seeing specific games played in your area. In other cases, games are canceled when ESPN and TNT have secured the broadcast rights to the game you want to watch. If a game doesn’t sell out 72 hours before kick-off, the game could be banned in its local market. You should be able to watch all of the games outside of your local broadcast market – unless your local Fox or CBS broadcaster is showing it.

Yes, NFL Game Pass subscribers will be affected by power outages. Regulations in the UK and Ireland mean certain games are subject to weekly blackouts, according to the NFL’s blackout site. However, these games are available after 24 hours. And there are no blackout restrictions during the postseason.

Do NBA League Pass members have blackout games?

Yes, NBA League Pass subscribers in the US and Canada are also subject to blackout games. The NBA says this is because U.S. local and national content providers have certain exclusive rights to broadcast live games and content on television. Blackout restrictions can include your local NBA team and any nationally televised games. However, blacked out matches can be watched after the game has finished.

Do MLB.TV and MLB Extra Innings subscribers have blackout games?

Yes. A very loud yes. For a complete overview of MLB’s complex blackout policy, see the MLB.TV Help Center Blackout Statements. In short, the MLB.TV subscription might offer big fan perks, but no anti-blackout features.

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