The 75-inch TV in Wendell Waldron’s Regina home is perfect for viewing football, but these days he watches his beloved San Francisco 49ers on a small tablet. It’s the only device in his home that streams DAZN’s NFL Sunday Ticket broadcasts without pausing or cutting out.
King City resident Gianfranco Schirripa subscribed to DAZN to follow the Philadelphia Eagles, but missed the end of the team’s season-opening win over Washington when his stream crashed.
In suburban Vancouver, DAZN subscriber Sean Meade grew so frustrated with the their spotty performance he created a Twitter account — @DAZNSucks — to unite disgruntled customers of NFL Sunday Ticket’s exclusive Canadian provider and amplify their voices.
The NFL and its new partner heard them. Late last week the league and DAZN reached agreements allowing several cable providers to resume selling Sunday Ticket, a subscription-only service showing out-of-market games.
But fans say the fight isn’t over.
The new agreement doesn’t cover Bell and Telus, whose subscribers still can’t access Sunday Ticket without buying DAZN. And until streaming becomes as reliable as cable, the NFL risks alienating customers who are willing to pay but can’t find a satisfactory product.
“The mission’s not complete until every Canadian can get Sunday Ticket just like they used to be able to,” Meade said. “All these companies used to have this product . . . You want to give your telecom more money and they won’t let you do it.”
DAZN (pronounced “da Zone”) is a U.K.-based sports streaming service that entered the Canadian market with a splash this summer, beating out traditional cable providers for exclusive rights to NFL Sunday Ticket. The company threw a glitzy rooftop party at a downtown hotel to promote the arrangement, and enlisted social media influencers to extend their online marketing reach. If streaming is the future of live sports, DAZN hoped to nudge Canadian NFL fans into a new era.
But when the season started, Canadians subscribers reported a litany of problems including streams lagging as many as four minutes behind live action, downloads too slow to keep up with game action, leading to pixilated images, paused streams and outright crashes and games airing without audio, or with commentary in languages other than English.
“It’s taken away from my enjoyment of the game,” says Waldron, a Mississauga native who moved to Regina in 2013. “I was getting even more buffering issues last week . . . There’s a major problem here.”
The NFL maintains it vetted DAZN and felt confident it could deliver the content reliably, but Canadian users’ complaints echo the ones raised by fans in Japan when DAZN took over rights to J-League soccer broadcasts earlier this year.
The CFL and its broadcast partner TSN do not currently offer a streaming-only package. While the league’s games are available on the TSN.ca, they require a cable subscription to access. The launch of DAZN, however, had some fans wondering if the CFL might pursue a partnership.
For its part, DAZN insists its technology is sound, and that the highly-publicized glitches affected a small percentage of subscribers. The company says it didn’t account for disparities in connectivity speeds before launching in Canada, and has worked to tailor its streams accordingly.
“We have to be able to serve that customer base,” DAZN executive Alex Rice said. “We should have been ready, but we’ve made those changes now.”
Experts say the emergence of a DAZN-style provider, which merges the convenience of streaming with the popularity of live sports, is inevitable. When the Solutions Research Group polled U.S. consumers on their must-have viewing options, Netflix ranked fourth, trailing only the three major broadcast networks. Amazon Prime, meanwhile, finished 14th. Neither streaming service made the top 15 last year.
Cable sports giant ESPN ranked sixth, best among cable networks.
But SRG president Kaan Yigit says DAZN’s early struggles in Japan and Canada demonstrate how much over-the-top services still need to improve to satisfy sports fans.
“We are probably some years away from an equally robust streaming solution on a mass scale for live sports — I’d say four to five years,” Yigit wrote in an email to the Star. “I don’t know that it will ever surpass cable, but at some point it should be near parity.”
DAZN might appeal to cord-cutters who still crave live sports, but disappointed customers say the service ignores habits that define contemporary sports viewership.
While in-game tweeting has become part of the viewing experience for many fans, streaming delays can turn Twitter into a non-stop string of spoilers for DAZN customers.
“I had to shut off all my notifications,” Schirripa said. “I was relegated to using my Twitter during commercial breaks because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being told something before it actually happened.”
And where fantasy football enthusiasts often toggle quickly between games to stay updated, DAZN’s interface makes that type of channel surfing inconvenient.
While DAZN works to make its product as reliable as cable is, the NFL says bringing cable providers back into the Sunday Ticket mix made more sense than waiting for streaming technology to catch up with fans’ habits.
The agreement DAZN signed with Rogers, Shaw, Eastlink and SaskTel runs through next season, but NFL executive Michael Markovich foresees Sunday Ticket remaining available on cable beyond that.
“From an NFL perspective, it was the fan comes first, and choice is what they want,” said Markovich, the NFL’s VP of international media. “There’s a desire on the DAZN side and . . . on the cable operator side to find a way to work together going forward. I don’t view that as a short-term partnership.”
Rice says DAZN is already working to address concerns customers have raised over the first half of the NFL season, and that long-term goals include an interface that allows for TV-style channel swapping.
The company is working in the short term to mend its tattered reputation, a campaign that includes visiting dissatisfied customers.
As his @DAZNSucks Twitter feed gained followers and influence, Meade received a direct message from the company on his personal account, asking if they could spend a day watching football and addressing his complaints. The following Sunday, a DAZN executive from England appeared at Meade’s house, accompanied by a public relations rep and bearing an afternoon’s worth of snacks. They discussed Meade’s concerns while watching a Seahawks game — on cable rather than his faulty DAZN stream.
Meade appreciated the gesture but cancelled his subscription anyway.
“If I have DAZN and I have cable, I’m going to pick cable 100 times out of 100,” he said. “It’s better. I don’t want to stream my football. I’ve never wanted to stream my football. I just want to turn it on and have it there.”