Verizon: Still no data charges for live NFL streaming via NFL Mobile app

There’s less fanfare around the decision this year (and no official press release we can find) but according to Verizon for the 2017 NFL season the wireless carrier will continue its plan from last year and won’t charge its metered-plan customers for data used while watching live NFL games via the NFL Mobile app.

UPDATE, Nov. 4: Please see this post with a Verizon response to NFL Mobile billing issues.

As we noted last year, some of the most-read stories in Mobile Sports Report history have been posts wondering about how much data customers might use watching a live football game on their phones. The answer now, for many Verizon customers, is easy: It’s still zero. You will still need to pay $1.99 a month again this fall to watch RedZone on your phone via NFL Mobile, but watching the live local and national-broadcast games (like Sunday night games and Monday Night Football) won’t chew up any of the gigabytes in your data plan. That is, if you have a data plan.

Where it may get tricky — and NFL Mobile and Verizon have a history of things not going quite as planned — is when it comes to customers on Verizon’s new “unlimited” plans. The first reply we got from our Verizon contact said, “Customers with metered plans will also enjoy games data free.”

But what about unlimited customers, we asked. Would NFL Mobile live-action data still be charged to them? This matters somewhat because the plans aren’t truly unlimited — some slowdowns to service can occur if you use more than 22 GB of data during a billing cycle. So it’s unclear to us what will happen if “unlimited” NFL Mobile users go past that number by say, watching every game possible over a cellular connection.

Does that mean that NFL Mobile junkies might actually do better with a metered plan than an unlimited plan? We have no clue. Here is the clarified second response to that question when we posed it to a Verizon spokesperson, so see if it makes sense to you:

Regarding unlimited; most of the time you’ll enjoy the same network experience after your line exceeds 22 GB during a billing cycle. If you exceed 22 GB…and you’re on a cell site that’s congested at that time, it may affect your streaming.

This may be just a small-potatoes quibble, but readers please let us know if things aren’t as free as they should be. What is helpful to know is this fact from the Verizon spokesperson: “Data usage from NFL Mobile may accrue real time when watching, but will be removed afterward in 24-48 hours.” Close watchers of data totals last year hit our comment boards with tales of being charged for NFL Mobile game-watching, but we believe it all turned out right in the end. But our comments space is always open if it doesn’t so please, NFL Mobile fans, keep letting us know what’s really happening out there.

As we also noted last year, many NFL Mobile veterans almost always seek a Wi-Fi connection when they are streaming NFL Mobile games, because better bandwidth and no data charges.

And remember: You can’t watch NFL Mobile live games on your tablet, because Verizon’s rights package only includes cellular phone-type devices.

Let the NFL streaming battles begin: AT&T brings live streaming to basic Sunday Ticket plan

Screen shot of DirecTV Sunday Ticket app for iPad

Screen shot of DirecTV Sunday Ticket app for iPad

If you are a regular MSR reader you may remember that when the AT&T/DirecTV acquisition came to pass, we wondered how long it would take before AT&T and Verizon started battling each other in the quest to bring live NFL action to fans on their phones. The answer: wait no more, the battle’s here.

Today, AT&T announced that all subscribers to the DirecTV Sunday Ticket plan “will be able to stream Sunday afternoon out-of-market football games to almost any device” when action kicks off this fall. Previously, Sunday Ticket subscribers had to shell out about an extra hundred bucks to get the Sunday Ticket Max package, which offered streaming. Last year, the basic Sunday Ticket package was about $250; so far we can’t find a price for this season (and we don’t want to hunt through all the splash screens trying to get us to sign up for DirecTV services). Suffice to say it will still be a premium product, but one that many NFL fans can’t live without.

According to AT&T, live streaming via the Sunday Ticket plan was up 35 percent last year, a figure that doesn’t surprise us at all. We’ve been tracking Verizon Wireless and its NFL Mobile package of live-streamed games (which varies but usually includes Monday, Thursday and any weekend games, as well as Sunday out-of-market games) for some time now, and posts about NFL Mobile typically draw the highest traffic to our site. Verizon has never released subscriber numbers for NFL Mobile, but if you guessed it was among the most popular sports apps out there, you would probably be right. Even at $1 billion for four years, the rights fees seem a bargain for Verizon.

DirecTV pays the NFL more (about $1.5 billion a year, according to reports) but it gets more; NFL Mobile is exclusive to cell phone devices, meaning you can’t use it on tablets or PCs. And now thrown into the mobile mix is Twitter, whose reported $10 million deal with the NFL for Thursday-night games also includes the rights to stream to cell phones and any other device. Anyone else out there want to play?

Why is NFL action so popular on mobile devices? Mainly, I think, because of several factors, including fantasy betting and the fact that the screens have gotten so big and sharp, you can actually watch a game on a phone and it’s not painful. As many of us mobile-NFL freaks know, the best part of the deals isn’t necessarily the games themselves, but instead it’s access to the NFL’s RedZone channel, which keeps you up to date on action all across the league (and despite its name, it offers way more than just plays “in the red zone.” They try to keep live action going at all times, and NO COMMMERCIALS makes it a football junkie’s dream).

Plus, on the West coast, RedZone will often just show all of later games since there are fewer contests to jump in between. I don’t know how many people will sit every Sunday through several games on the couch, but if you can watch a few minutes or a final drive while you’re somewhere else it’s pretty addictive.

No news yet this year from Verizon on what the NFL Mobile package of games might look like, but stay tuned: This battle is just getting started. Good news is, more competition means more access and lower prices for fans. That’s something we can all cheer, no matter which teams we root for.

Verizon makes live NFL action via NFL Mobile free to all customers; RedZone still $1.99 a month

Screen shot of NFL Mobile app showing possible live games to watch.

Screen shot of NFL Mobile app showing possible live games to watch.

If you’re a Verizon Wireless customer, watching live NFL action on your smartphone just got a lot easier and perhaps cheaper. For the 2016 pro football season, Verizon will give all its customers free access to the schedule of live NFL games available via the NFL Mobile app, eliminating a $5 fee that used to be charged to non-premium plan users.

Though every game isn’t available, the NFL Mobile live schedule is pretty good, as it includes Sunday Night Football games, Monday Night games, Thursday night games and Sunday local games and also preseason games like tonight’s action. Also free is non-live action programming from the NFL Network, but if you want the prize catch — the NFL Network’s RedZone Channel — you still need to pay an extra $1.99 a month, and it’s a good idea to register NOW as Verizon has a history of having technical difficulty when people call on opening day.

(Don’t say we didn’t warn you!)

And, as always, though the games are free the data usage is not, so if you are on cellular games will count against your service plan; our best suggestion is to find free Wi-Fi.

If you are a savvy NFL watcher, you know that the RedZone Channel is the “secret” extra window to live action, especially on the West coast where we would often see entire games shown on RedZone simply because there weren’t other games to switch back and forth to. If you are a customer of any other cellular service, you are mostly out of luck in getting live football on your phone, since Verizon has an exclusive $1 billion deal with the NFL to be the sole carrier of live action on phone-type devices for another 2 years.

What’s still a muddle is whether or not you will be able to watch live action via NFL Mobile when you are at an NFL stadium, something we are working on trying to find the answers to. Neither the league nor Verizon has ever offered up anything like a guide to whether or not you can use the app to watch other games while at a game, even though with fantasy football it’s a good bet that many NFL ticketholders would like to have access to games other than the one they are attending. You can blame local and stadium broadcasting rights for most of the places that block NFL Mobile live games, along with substandard wireless services, but our hope is that the situation will improve as more teams put in Wi-Fi and upgrade their DAS.

You may also see a message prompting you to sign up for a new $99.99 (or so) package called Game Pass, which is a new all-inclusive video subscription deal from the league that includes live game audio and a lot of other features, but no live game action. Look for more info on that package and a revamped NFL Mobile app next week, and let’s all cross our fingers and burn incense to hope that Verizon added a server or two so many of us aren’t frustrated when the footballs fly.

Is mobile access to live NFL games the next battleground for AT&T and Verizon Wireless?

NFL Mobile screen shot of server fail during Week 1. Photo Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

NFL Mobile screen shot of server fail during Week 1. Photo Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Today’s news that DirecTV has signed a $12 billion deal with the NFL — priced at $1.5 billion a year for 8 years — to keep carrying its Sunday Ticket package has me thinking: Are we on the verge of a battle royale between the country’s two biggest cellular providers over mobile access to NFL games?

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to claim that mobile access to sports content and live NFL games are two of the hottest things going. Go look up any list of the most-watched live TV shows, and you will find various big NFL games dominating the list. Add that to stats like today’s news out of ESPN where the worldwide leader claimed it had 61.3 million unique mobile users during August and you can perhaps see another reason why AT&T might want to buy DirecTV: Because with Sunday Ticket, AT&T has a possible way to trump Verizon’s stranglehold on smartphone access to live NFL action, which it now shows via its exclusive contract with the NFL for its NFL Mobile app premium service.

Judging by traffic and search terms on our humble little site, people looking to find ways to watch live NFL action on their mobile devices is a pretty hot topic these days. Right now, the only way for most people to see any live action at all on a smartphone is to be a Verizon Wireless subscriber, and have the premium service for the company’s NFL Mobile app. Free to “More Everything” data plan customers and $5 a month for others, the premium NFL Mobile package provides access to Sunday night, Monday night and Thursday night games, as well as local Sunday games.

Sunday Ticket vs. NFL Mobile?

You can also watch the RedZone channel via NFL Mobile, but confusingly if you are on the More Everything plan you need to pay an additional $1.99 a month, a new process that helped mess up Verizon’s NFL Mobile access earlier this season. Non-Share Everything customers who pay the $5 a month fee have RedZone included for free. (For many true NFL fans, RedZone is often even better than having games streamed, since you get all the best action, even from blacked-out games or games not televised locally.)

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 2.37.08 PMWhere the battle might be joined is in the tablet space — since Verizon’s $1 billion agreement with the NFL only provides live game access to “phone-like devices” and not to tablets or computers, it will be interesting to see what happens if and when AT&T becomes the new owner of DirecTV. One of the more interesting options from DirecTV this year was the NFLSundayTicket.TV option, which allows a type of “cord-cutting,” providing all the options of Sunday Ticket without having to have satellite service. Right now the option (pricing starts at $199 for the season) is only available in a few cities, universities and apartment buildings, but with the heft of AT&T behind it who knows what might happen to both that deal and the regular Sunday Ticket package.

Though far pricer, the $329.94 Sunday Ticket Max plan offered by DirecTV currently allows for mobile viewing of all games, on “computer, tablet, phone or game console.” Anyone else see the possibility of AT&T offering free Sunday Ticket plans to purchases of new phones or tablets?

Verizon, which provides information about NFL Mobile subscriber stats just like Bill Belichick provides deep insights on the inner machinations of the New England Patriots, has not recently stated how many subscribers it has on the NFL Mobile premium package. But for $1 billion over 4 years you can bet the number of users is well into the millions, maybe even more than 10 million — and the exclusivity of NFL live action has certainly been a big selling point for Big Red. The good news for NFL fans is, if any battle begins, it will likely include more access for lower costs — that’s the kind of competition we can all cheer for.

Stadium Tech Report: Wi-Fi + advanced stadium app helps Philadelphia Eagles ‘Linc’ with fans

Wi-Fi gear on the exterior of Lincoln Financial Field. Credit all photos: Philadelphia Eagles

Wi-Fi gear on the exterior of Lincoln Financial Field. Credit all photos: Philadelphia Eagles

With victories in their first three games, the Philadelphia Eagles are off to a fast start this NFL season. And from a networking standpoint, Eagles fans are keeping pace, with Wi-Fi connections at Lincoln Financial Field already surpassing last year’s totals.

Now in the second season of having full-stadium Wi-Fi available for fans, the Eagles’ technology team is pushing the needle forward, much like the high-powered offense head coach Chip Kelly runs on the field. An already advanced stadium app will soon get even more video features, including instant replay, to further enhance the game experience for the 69,176 fans who fill the “Linc” on home-game Sundays.

According to Anne Gordon, the Eagles’ senior vice president for media and communications, there were more than 21,000 fans using the in-stadium Wi-Fi network at the team’s Sept. 7 opening game, a total that surpasssed the 19,671 users on the network at the Eagles’ final game last season, a 26-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints in a wild card game on Jan. 4, 2014.

Anne Gordon, SVP Media and Communications, Philadelphia Eagles

Anne Gordon, SVP Media and Communications, Philadelphia Eagles

Along with the growth in user numbers is an even greater jump in the amount of data being used; according to Gordon, the Eagles’ Extreme Networks-powered Wi-Fi network carried 946 Gigabytes of data in the Sept. 7 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, up from around 400 GB used during the playoff game in January. Unlike some other stadiums with Wi-Fi networks, Gordon said that the Linc network regularly sees fans download more data than they upload — a reflection of the team’s strategy to provide a wide range of custom content for fans to help improve the game-day experience.

“We want to help them become better fans, and improve their enjoyment of the game,” said Gordon in a recent phone interview. “That was our vision from the beginning.”

But to get to that vision, the Eagles first had to give fans a way to get the content. That meant using some of the $125 million in recent renovation fees to build out the stadium-wide Wi-Fi network, which Gordon said eliminated past connectivity headaches for Philadelphia fans.

Build it, and show them how to use it

Screen shot of Eagles' stadium app

Screen shot of Eagles’ stadium app

“Prior to the 2013 season, there were real issues trying to connect mobile devices in the stadium,” Gordon said. “You might get a signal, but then walk 20 steps and lose it. When we talked to fans, improving the wireless network [in the stadium] was high on their list.”

Working with partner Extreme Networks, which now runs Wi-Fi networks in four other NFL stadiums, the Eagles had stadium-wide coverage ready to go before the 2013 season kicked off. But unlike some venues, which do little to promote their in-stadium networks, the Eagles and Extreme brought some more NFL flavor to their wireless experience in the form of “Wi-Fi coaches,” network-savvy people who roamed the stands in readily identifiable clothing, offering personal assistance to fans trying to connect.

“We put notes in the cup holders the first few games of last season, and then had the coaches with jackets that said ‘ask me’ on them,” Gordon said. That little bit of assistance, she said, spreads quickly.

“If you connect one person, that fan shows six more people in the row [how to connect],” Gordon said. “Our fans took to the network immediately.”

And just in case fans need a refresher, the team’s website has perhaps the league’s best help pages, with simple screen shots showing how to install, open and use the most popular features on the team app.

Out front with app features

As we found out in our recent report on NFL stadium technology deployments, there are many teams with stadium Wi-Fi networks, but the level of application and content delivery varies from team to team. With a feature lineup that includes in-stadium access to the NFL’s popular RedZone channel alongside a live feed from the stadium’s large video boards, the Eagles’ app was clearly among the league leaders when it launched last year. And soon, Gordon said the Eagles will add more live camera views and replay choices to the menu, developments made possible in part by the team’s close relationship with app designer YinzCam Inc.

“We have a unique relationship with YinzCam, and work hand in hand with them [on new developments],” Gordon said. “We’re blessed in that we get a lot of things in our app first.” The Pittsburgh-based YinzCam, which has designed team and stadium apps for a long list of sports-team customers, is a preferred team-app partner of the NFL, which was an early investor in the company.

Can you find the Wi-Fi access point?

Can you find the Wi-Fi access point?

With a long history of full houses, Gordon said the team doesn’t need to use its network or app strategy to try to put people in seats.

“We are continuously sold out, so thankfully we don’t have to sell tickets [with the app],” said Gordon, noting that some fans have had season tickets in their families for several generations. That fact allows the Eagles’ tech team to make their digital strategy “100 percent about improving the game experience,” Gordon said. “We’re giving them a reason to download and consume.”

Not possible without the network

With more than 700,000 downloads of the stadium app so far, it appears as if the Eagles have a winning digital strategy to match the team’s recent on-field successes. Now the biggest challenge may be finding enough Internet bandwidth to keep the fans supplied with the in-game content.

“We are definitely bumping up against our [bandwidth] pipe threshold,” Gordon said. So far, it looks like the campaign to use content to improve the experience at the Linc is working — along with the network that links it all.

“If the [Wi-Fi] network doesn’t work, people get frustrated and don’t use the app,” Gordon said. “The network is what had to happen to make this vision possible.”

Verizon, NFL fumble opening-day live video for NFL Mobile app — for the 2nd year in a row

Screen shot of the message NFL Mobile users are getting used to seeing on opening day. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR.

Screen shot of the message NFL Mobile users are getting used to seeing on opening day. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR.

It’s not a streak you want to continue, especially if you are the NFL, Verizon Wireless, or one of the frustrated customers who weren’t able to see live video using Verizon’s NFL Mobile application during Sunday’s season-opening games. But just like last year, when activation servers for a new version of the app got overwhelmed, issues arose again on Sunday, making live video — one of the premium features of NFL Mobile that makes the app and service so attractive — unavailable for most of the day, including the large slate of early games.

Verizon executives who spoke with MSR Monday declined to comment on the NFL Mobile issues, instead referring all questions to their partner, the NFL media team. Verizon wireless support was also apparently offline on Sunday, leaving the task of responding to the many irate messages and tweets to the small but valiant NFL Mobile Support team.

Alex Riethmiller, vice president of communications for NFL Media, said the issue once again was due to high traffic overwhelming the authentication servers, which (putting it simply) identify whether or not a customer is a Verizon subscriber, and whether or not that customer has access to the premium content. Some of the additional traffic may have been due to two changes Verizon made in NFL Mobile subscriptions from last season; one was to give free premium access (which lets you see live action) to all customers on a More Everything data plan, and the other was to charge all of those More Everything viewers another $1.99 a month if they wanted to also watch the NFL’s RedZone channel, one of the more attractive features of the app (since RedZone gives you lots of live action, even on games that might otherwise be blacked or not viewable for other reasons). Verizon customers who are not More Everything customers must pay $5 a month for access to the NFL Mobile premium content.

Theoretically, you should be able to order RedZone from this "settings" page of the app. But it didn't work when we tried to click the button.

Theoretically, you should be able to order RedZone from this “settings” page of the app. But it didn’t work when we tried to click the button.

For many NFL Mobile customers, yours truly included, any live video at all was not available for long stretches of Sunday, and after a brief 2-minute “preview” period the RedZone content was also unavailable, and the app was not allowing it to be purchased. As of Monday afternoon, the MSR official testing lab still couldn’t get the RedZone box to work — clicking it kept taking us to a page explaining the charges but not offering a way to add it to our bill.

“NFL Mobile requires a number of backend systems to ensure only Verizon customers can get live NFL video,” said Riethmiller, in a prepared statement. “We experienced issues with one of the systems that validates customers, and it took longer than anticipated to resolve because of tremendous demand. We are confident we have addressed the issue going forward.”

Kristin Rooney, Verizon Wireless director of sponsorships and branded entertainment, would not comment on the NFL Mobile outages in a phone interview Monday morning. However, Rooney was happy to talk about the new features in NFL Mobile this season, including the ability to watch local games live, even if they are out of the traditional prime-time window NFL Mobile has access to. In addition to the local games, NFL Mobile premium customers are supposed to be able to watch live games on Sunday nights, Monday nights and Thursday nights, and also have access to RedZone broadcasts during the day. That is, when the servers are working.

BUY... MORE... SERVERS

BUY… MORE… SERVERS

Another unclear option is what happens to RedZone access when NFL Mobile customers visit NFL stadiums — while Verizon blocks access to RedZone at some stadiums, at others it allows it, usually through a partnership with a team’s stadium app. Rooney, however, did not have a list of stadiums where NFL Mobile customers could watch RedZone broadcasts during a game; most famously, the service was blocked at last year’s Super Bowl in MetLife Stadium.

Rooney also declined to say just how many customers Verizon has for its NFL Mobile app, though the Google Play store says the app has between 10 and 50 million installs. However, since a non-premium version of the app is available to customers with contracts from other carriers, it’s unclear how many “premium” members were overwhelming Verizon’s servers. It’s worth noting that Verizon is no stranger to large numbers of single-day activations, as its systems support more than 100 million wireless subscribers, nation-wide.

In a related note, NFL Mobile wasn’t the only streaming product having issues Sunday. According to a report at TVPredictions.com, the DirecTV streaming service for NFL games also suffered outages Sunday, also for the second straight year.