Perhaps the “old guys” who resist the evolution of streaming are right. Anyway, that’s how my first night with NFL+, the National Football League’s new streaming service, made me feel.
Announced in July and launching in time for the 2022 preseason, NFL+ is a way for football fans to give the league a few bucks each month in exchange for access to some live games on the streaming device of their choice. .
The NFL is finally launching its own streaming service with live games. Is that how it works.
Unfortunately, both the game selection and streaming quality are off to an unimpressive start.
What does NFL+ include?
The two levels of NFL+.
Credit: Screenshot: NFL
NFL+ comes in two tiers: a $4.99/month basic option and a $9.99/month “premium” option. This is what you get with both:
Live preseason games from outside your home market on all devices
Experience home market regular season and playoff games on a phone or tablet
Live audio streams of every game, regardless of location
An on-demand library of NFL programming
If you choose to pay the extra $5 a month for NFL+ Premium, you also get full and abridged replays of every game, as well as a “coaches movie” view of the games (using different camera angles from the TV broadcast to give most complete of each play), all without ads.
If you are Really in football and you don’t have cable, this might seem like an attractive offer on paper. Preseason games can be a bit tricky to watch if you don’t live in your team’s home TV market, so as a Kansas City Chiefs fan living in New York, NFL+ has something for me. Free access to all in-game radio feeds is also a nice bonus, as sometimes you can be away from a TV and still need to know what’s going on in a high-stakes game.
However, thanks to performance issues, the product as it exists right now falls short of what you’d expect from the NFL’s first foray into the streaming business.
How does NFL+ work?
All NFL+ streams work from the NFL app, which you can find on Android, iOS, and streaming devices like Chromecast and Roku. To be clear, you don’t need NFL+ to download and use the app, which has game scores, stats, and some videos available for free. NFL+ simply unblocks certain game streams. This is where the problems really start. Y end: The NFL app is just not good to use.
I streamed portions of two preseason games using the NFL app on a Chromecast with Google TV, one of the best 4K streaming devices on the market. I saw a matchup between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots and a game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Tennessee Titans. (In case you’ve never watched preseason football, it usually involves watching backup players, many of whom will never even hit the field in an actual NFL game. And unless you’re super invested in one of the teams in the field, usually not worth seeing).
The NFL app is just not good to use.
The first problem I ran into with NFL+ was that the Giants game was not available because I live in New York. Instead, I had to use a wired login. I know that NFL+ does not promise access to each preseason game, but still paying for something and being locked out of a stream due to local restrictions is annoying. That problem didn’t apply to the Ravens game, but a lot of other problems did.
Frustratingly, the process of getting any game up and running on the NFL app is an arduous task. Simply moving the cursor around the main menu is a molasses affair on a streaming device that rarely has such issues with other apps. It would often pause for 10-15 seconds at a time, and the response time between me pressing a button and anything happening on the screen could last several seconds.
The mobile interface of the NFL app is simple, but slow.
Once you start a broadcast, the problems are less severe but still noticeable. The frame rate was apparently capped at 30 frames per second, which is half of what you’d get from a genuine TV broadcast of any sports game. Even laymen who aren’t as savvy about frame rates as I am, would immediately notice that something is wrong with these streams. Sports are supposed to be seen a certain way on TV and have been for decades; changes that may disturb the viewing experience.
If you can get past that lower frame rate (and I can, having spent the last six years without cable), the quality of the stream is watchable but nothing special. I did notice a bit of stuttering in the Ravens game, but it didn’t affect my viewing experience. And in case you were wondering, there is no difference in streaming quality between games watched with NFL+ and games watched with a cable login.
I also tried looking around a bit using the NFL app on the iPhone to see if the experience was any different and it really wasn’t. Streaming quality was the same, and the mobile app interface was only slightly faster. After an hour or so of watching fringe NFL players execute simple game plans (teams usually don’t put out their best plays in a preseason game for fear of showing their hands too soon), I did what I always do during the NFL preseason: I got bored and played video games instead.
Amazon is eating the NFL’s lunch
Very quickly, I’d like to point out that NFL+ isn’t the only new football streaming offering this season. Amazon is the exclusive home of Thursday Night Football now, and the experience of watching games on Prime Video is day and night compared to the NFL app.
All that really needs to be said is that Amazon games stream at a rate of 60 frames per second, which makes them look just like regular TV. The stream is also crisp 1080p, and it loads quickly within the Prime Video app without much buffering or stuttering. You can get stats while watching the game and they will even update in real time.
Overall, it’s a much better experience than what NFL+ offers right now, but one big difference is that Amazon only streams one game every weekwhile NFL+ gives you access to at least two or three games every Sunday.
Amazon’s NFL debut broadcast passed the ultimate test
Old school TV could be better
I wouldn’t call NFL+ completely useless or a waste of money, especially since $5 for a month would get you through an entire preseason, if that’s what you’re interested in watching. But it was an inferior experience compared to watching games on regular TV in every conceivable way. It may be useful for out-of-market preseason games, but for the regular and postseason experiences that NFL+ offers, you’d be better off buying a HDTV antenna and get your local channels that way.
Who knew the modern equivalent of bunny ears would be better than a shiny new streaming service from America’s biggest sports league?