Maybe the “old” people who resist the evolution of streaming are onto something. 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 dollars each month in exchange for access to some live games on their favorite streaming device.
The NFL is finally launching its own streaming service with live games. Here’s how it works.
Unfortunately, both game selection and broadcast quality are off to an unimpressive start.
What does NFL+ include?
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. Here’s what you get with both:
Live preseason games from outside your local market on all devices
Live local market regular season and playoff games on your phone or tablet
Live audio streams of every game, regardless of location
An on-demand library of NFL programming
If you decide to pay the extra $5/month for NFL+ Premium, you’ll also get full and digest replays of every game, as well as a “coaches film” view of the games (using different camera angles from the broadcast TV to give you a more complete picture of each show), all ad-free.
If you are really in soccer and you don’t have cable, this might seem like a tempting offer on paper. Preseason games can be a little difficult to catch if you don’t live in your team’s local TV market, so as a Kansas City Chiefs fan living in New York, NFL+ has something to offer me. Free access to all game radio broadcasts is also a nice bonus, as you can sometimes be far 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 stands now just isn’t on par with what you’d expect from the NFL’s first foray into the broadcast business.
How does NFL+ work?
All NFL+ streams work out of 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 some game streams. This is where the problems really begin AND Bottom line: The NFL app is just not good to use.
I streamed parts of two preseason games using the NFL app in one Chromecast with Google TV, one of the best 4K streaming devices on the market. I was checked into a New York Giants-New England Patriots game and a game between the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans. (In case you’ve never watched preseason football, it usually involves seeing backup players, many of whom will never touch the field in an actual NFL game. And if you’re not great invested in one of the teams in the field, generally not worth watching.)
The NFL app is just not nice to use.
The first problem I encountered with NFL+ was that the Giants game was not available because I live in New York. I had to use a wired input instead. I know that NFL+ does not promise access each preseason game, but still, paying for something and being locked out of a stream due to local restrictions is annoying. This issue did not apply to the Ravens game, but many other issues did.
Frustratingly, the process of getting each game up and running in the NFL app is a chore. Simply moving the cursor around the main menu is a sleepy, molasses-like affair on a streaming device that rarely has that kind of problem with any other app. It would often freeze for 10 to 15 seconds at a time, and the response time between me hitting a button and anything happening on the screen could take several seconds.
The mobile interface of the NFL app is simple, but slow.
Once you start a stream, the problems are less severe but still noticeable. The frame rate was apparently limited to 30 frames per second, which is half of what you would get from a real TV broadcast of any sports game. Even lay people who aren’t as eagle-eyed about frame rates as I am would immediately notice that something is wrong with these streams. Sports are supposed to look a certain way on TV and have for decades; change that can be devastating to the viewing experience.
If you can get over that lower frame rate (and I can, having spent the last six years without cable), the streaming quality is noticeable but unremarkable. I noticed a slight stutter in the Ravens game, but it didn’t affect my viewing experience. And in case you’re wondering, there’s no difference in broadcast quality between games viewed with NFL+ and games viewed with a cable input.
I also tried watching for a bit using the NFL app on the iPhone to see if the experience was different and it really wasn’t. The streaming quality was the same and the mobile app interface was just a little faster. After about an hour of watching NFL outside linebackers execute vanilla game plans (teams generally don’t bring their best plays into a preseason game for fear of showing their hands too early), I did what I always do in the preseason of the NFL: I got bored and played video games.
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 right now, and the game viewing experience on Prime Video is night and day compared to the NFL app.
All that really needs to be said is that Amazon’s games stream at a smooth 60 frames per second, which makes them look like regular TV. The stream is also a crisp 1080p, loading quickly within the Prime Video app without much buffering or stuttering at all. You can pull up stats while watching the game and they will even update in real time.
Overall, it’s a much better experience than what NFL+ offers now, but one big difference is that Amazon only streams a game every weekwhile NFL+ gives you access to at least two or three games every Sunday.
Amazon’s NFL debut stream passed the most important test
Old school television can be better
I wouldn’t call NFL+ completely useless or a waste of money, especially since $5 a month would get you through an entire preseason — if that’s what you care to see. But it was an inferior experience to watching the games on regular TV in every possible way. It might 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 HD TV antenna and getting 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?