Game Pass; NFL’s Jewel or Poison Chalice

During the playoffs at the start of the year, I said how I thought that Game Pass  could be the crown jewel to assist the NFL’s expansion into Europe“.

Well, it looks like I wasn’t the only one with that thought, as in June the NFL set up a new agreement with Bruin Sports Capital and WPP to grow the product for European customers.

Bruin and WPP have formed a new company that, through its strategic license from the NFL, will evolve the NFL Game Pass business as part of the NFL’s international growth strategy.  The new company will be headquartered in London; its name, CEO and executive team will be introduced shortly.  Double Coverage have an interview slot with the new CEO on Wednesday at the NFL’s UK offices.

“As the NFL continues to prioritize Game Pass, we sought out key experts to unlock the significant potential across Europe” – Mark Waller, EVP of International & Events at the NFL

At the same time, it was announced that Deltatre, a Bruin Sports Capital portfolio company, will now power NFL Game Pass across a combined 61 European countries and territories.  This includes the development of a new, state-of-the-art product which will feature a rich user experience optimised for cross-platform viewing.  Deltatre will also manage end-to-end technology delivery, streaming, user-facing applications, back-end support, payments and customer service.

Digital media services (whatever they are!) will be led by data-driven sports marketing agency, Two Circles and supported by fellow WPP agencies MEC and Ogilvy.

Close To Being A Disaster

Now, this all sounded great in theory, however so far, the implementation has been very close to being a disaster.

Access to Game Pass works either through a browser or via various apps on iOS, Android and Xbox.  Things started to go wrong in mid-June, 6 weeks before annual subscriptions expired.  Users lost access to the apps and much of the content they pay for was no longer available in the new browser product introduced by Deltatre.  Users were then given the option of using the existing browser platform too, however, there were days when neither platform worked.

What was worse for many, was that there was no communication to existing users of any change of providers or delivery methods.  There was also silence from the NFL and NFL UK when users voiced complaints on Social Media or NFL UK’s own fan forum.  It was nearly two weeks later that users were notified by email about the new service, offering “the same great content”.

Problems continued throughout the pre-season with apps lacking features, games not streaming and users being billed the wrong amounts.

Light At The End Of The Tunnel

There have been dramatic improvements recently as Deltatre have been pushing out regular app updates and do appear to be listening to user complaints on their newly registered Twitter account.  However with the regular season fast approaching there still needs to be action taken to address the outstanding user issues:

  • Compensation for loss of part of the annual subscription and ongoing system issues;
  • The ability to control the download/stream quality;
  • Condensed games are not ready in time for users commute or breakfast viewing;
  • Support responses are very slow and Twitter complaints are often ignored;
  • Xbox still missing most of the content;
  • No installment plan;
  • Users who paid with paypal not offered the same renewal pricing incentives;
  • Full video control needs to be restored for all apps/platforms.

Recently, a new payment package was introduced for Game Pass called “Essential”. This offered many of the facilities in the “Pro” package, like Game in 40, NFL Network and some live streams, but for a much-reduced price (£84.99). This was off target for what users really wanted as the live game and full download is chosen for you and wasn’t the “follow-your-team” option that had been hoped for by fans.  Whilst not perfect, with the introductory 25% discount bringing it down to £64 a year, this offered a great deal for fans who like to watch many games and weren’t as bothered about watching live,
It is no surprise that existing users are fuming at this new introduction as they weren’t offered this package as part of their automatic renewal. Even those not on automatic renewal have the right to be upset.  They choose to buy the product after only being shown one option when others existed.

The Way Forward

The new Game Pass has heavyweight players behind it who have experience of providing a top notch sports delivery platform. Fans paying a hefty wack of money deserve to get what was promised and I am confident that the new Game Pass will deliver. NFL UK needs to be more vocal and acknowledge the ongoing issues and let us know why they changed provider. I’m sure their vision for the long-term future of Game Pass was well intentioned, however, their current lack of public comment doesn’t leave fans feeling as confident as I am.

When the new Game Pass works, it does provide stable Full HD Streams. With a few more tweaks and the outstanding issues addressed it will once again be the best way for fans to get their fix of NFL action.

I will be putting the outstanding issues to the new CEO on Wednesday and will be bringing his answers to you shortly after.

I Blame The Russians

I joked in my playoff article that the NFL weren’t in control of their own Game Pass Twitter account. Well, I was only half joking and it seems I may well have been right as this account has now been closed down.  At the same time, I questioned a senior NFL executive about his Twitter account (published in their own Media Black Book) showing some very questionable XX rated content. His terse reply merely pointed to a new account and never addressed why the published address was showing porn!  It may well be that the Russians didn’t only influence the American election but also managed to get at some of its major institutions.


Edit: for the follow-up article, see here.