ESPN, originally known as the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, has been a staple in American households ever since it first started broadcasting in late 1979. Since then it’s become an iconic brand with hundreds of millions of viewers each month. But the conundrum is that its livestreaming segment is still unavailable for audiences outside the US.
Even those users who subscribe to ESPN via their cable TV network or compatible broadband internet connection can only do so while present in the country. The minute they try to log in from outside the US, their connection will be blocked.
In this article we’ll take you through the process of streaming ESPN outside of the US using a VPN so you can access ESPN from any location.
Things start getting tricky if you try to log in to the app from a location in Europe or Asia. Such users will be greeted with a message similar to this:
“THIS SITE IS NOT AVAILABLE IN YOUR COUNTRY”
Using a VPN
The simplest way to circumvent this problem is by signing up for a Virtual Private Network (VPN). If you don’t know what that is, don’t panic. All a VPN does is encrypt your internet traffic and routes it through a server of your choice, ordinarily outside the country you’re currently located.
It’s a great piece of software if you wish to mask your true location and unlock a host of content that would normally be inaccessible. Using a VPN is legal in most places so there’s no threat of breaking any laws.
If you’re an expat American living in a country that doesn’t offer access to ESPN, your best bet is to first get access to a speedy VPN.
What’s the best VPN for ESPN?
We’ve ranked VPNs based on the following factors:
- Fast speeds for HD streaming
- Wide range of US servers to bypass regional blackouts
- DNS leak protection to prevent disclosing the user’s location
- Apps for mobile and desktop
- Easy to use
With 23 server locations in the US alone, ExpressVPN is a solid bet to stream ESPN seamlessly in HD or UHD.
ExpressVPN offers server locations in 78 countries and performs highly on metrics such as speed and unblocking tests.
It does not retain any customer traffic logs, but does gather metadata related to server location and total amount of data transferred each day.
Express is encrypted with 256-bit AES standards and comes integrated with a “kill switch” – meaning it’ll completely disrupt all internet traffic if the connection drops. The company is registered in the British Virgin Islands – out of the reach of UK authorities – which means there won’t be any nasty requests for user data.
It also has apps for both Android, iOS, and a desktop version that’s compatible with Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Linux (command-line), so you can view the action on the device of your choice.
Comparitech readers can get an extra 3 months free with the Express VPN 12 month plan. It has a “No-hassle 100% money-back guarantee,” which applies to the first 30 days of service – so getting a full refund is very much on the cards if you change you mind or just need access for a short period.
IPVanish continues with the tradition of having a user-first mindset. It operates hundreds of servers spread across 60 countries. There are 300 dedicated physical servers present in the US alone. The best part is that it owns all of its physical servers (unlike some other VPNs that also rent), meaning speed and connectivity are blazing fast.
The company is based in the United States, but follows a strict “no-logs” policy coupled with 256-bit encryption on the OpenVPN protocol by default, SHA512 authentication, and a DHE-RSA 2048 key exchange with perfect forward secrecy.
Apps are available for iOS and Android. IPVanish also offers support for Windows and MacOS.
Reader deal: Save 60% on IPVanish’s annual plan here or 25% on the monthly plan.
NordVPN offers an impressive 57 server locations spread across the globe and there’s negligible difference when compared to ExpressVPN in the livestreaming domain. It operates a whopping 375 standard VPN physical servers in the US so connectivity won’t be an issue.
The company is registered in Panama which means it’s not subject to any draconian laws forcing it to reveal user data or preferences. Users can pay via Bitcoin, meaning paper trails are minimized and privacy guaranteed.
Nord also incorporates extra security features like a double-hop VPN, which routes the connection through two VPNs instead of one. In the past, the company has received multiple requests for information but couldn’t provide any simply because it has a no-logs policy.
There’s apps for both iOS and Android as well as support for Windows and MacOS.
NordVPN also offers special servers that have been optimized for ultra-fast streaming, so watching the Superbowl in HD on a beach in Asia is a definite possibility.
Deal alert: NordVPN has a heavily discounted 2 year deal, however it’s not mentioned on the home page and it is not listed with the standard plans. The deal, which gives a 72% discount on the 2 year plan can be found here. There’s no mention on NordVPN’s site of how long this deal will run for.
VyprVPN has been around for about six years and operates server locations in over 60 countries. Nine of those locations are within the US.
The company uses 256-bit AES encryption as standard, which means it can operate in some of the world’s toughest regulatory environments. It’s notably popular in China, where users have found it to be one of the more robust VPNs that can stand up to the Great Firewall.
Vypr also operates its proprietary Chameleon ™ tech which claims to prevent bandwidth throttling by internet service providers as well as deep packet inspection. It also owns all of its servers rather than preferring to rent, giving it complete control over the data passing through its network.
With apps for Windows Phone, Android, and iOS, it’s unlikely that users will ever be locked out. The service also supports Windows and MacOS.
Free trial: VyprVPN runs a 3 day free trial here. If you sign up for the trial you also get 50% off your first month if you decide to keep it.
Cyberghost Pro is a middle-range VPN service that will appeal to users on a budget. It doesn’t have the fancy customizable settings or the expansive server networks associated with some of the other providers on the list but it’ll get the job done regardless.
At the moment there are over 1,000 servers to choose from including plenty in the US. Accessing ESPN shouldn’t be a problem.
Apps are available for both Android and iOS as well as desktop support for Windows and MacOS.
Cyberghost Pro doesn’t escape the Netflix VPN ban, but is compatible with BBC iPlayer.
As for encryption standards, it uses 256-bit AES encryption on the OpenVPN protocol by default along with 2,048-bit RSA keys and MD5 HMAC authentication. These are considered to be resilient so your data will remain secure. There’s an internet kill switch included.
Read our full review of Cyberghost Pro.
Cheap offer: You can subscribe to Cyberghost Pro’s 2-year plan which works out to be less than $3/month.
Free VPN Options
A bit of digging around on Google, Duck Duck Go, or Reddit will help you uncover free VPN services, but our recommendation is to avoid this trap.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and such options will bombard you with all sorts of tracking cookies, advertisements, and other methods to mine browsing data that pass through the VPN.
There’s also a very real risk of malware infection which can take several excruciating hours to fix as well the possibility of data loss.
In some cases, free VPN services have been caught selling or otherwise abusing user data without their permission – a major security concern. A recent example was Hola VPN, a browser plugin with over 50 million users, that used its critical mass to attack other sites.
That’s an abhorrent practice and a stark reminder of the fact that typically when the product is free, you end up being the product.
How to use Watch ESPN with a VPN
For iOS and Google Play-supported Android devices, using the Watch ESPN app from abroad is as simple as connecting to a VPN server in the United States using your provider’s VPN app, then opening the app as you normally would. You might need to clear your app cache data to remove any old location identifiers.
The Watch ESPN app is compatible with Roku, Chromecast, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV. To set up the app on any of these devices, which don’t don’t support VPN apps by default, we recommend leveraging the VPN on a virtual router. This is possible because most PCs that can connect to wifi are also capable of broadcasting a wifi signal for other devices to connect to.
Newer versions of the Amazon Fire TV Stick support VPN apps but require a bit of finesse to install.
Use a VPN to bypass regional blackouts
Some local sports events might be blacked out on ESPN if your device’s IP address points to a location within the blackout region. Blackouts occur when local broadcasting rights are exclusive to a local broadcaster so that another network, like ESPN, is not allowed to offer the game on TV or online to any resident in the region. This means that fans often can’t live stream the events they want to see most: the ones featuring their favorite local teams.
VPNs can help circumvent blackouts simply by assigning you a new IP address. When you connect to a VPN, the IP address that the ESPN app and website see are that of the VPN server. So all you need to do is connect to a VPN server outside of the blackout region to unblock the stream!
History of ESPN
ESPN’s big break came when it secured the rights to broadcast the NCAA Men’s Division 1 basketball tournament, catapulting it into millions of television screens and engendering a legion of sports fans who couldn’t get enough.
Other smart moves helped the fledgling company grow in its formative years. It started to televise the NFL Draft – an event that grew in popularity so rapidly that it’s an established part of the television circuit now. Sportscenter, its discussion and analysis segment, attracts an average of 115 million viewers every month.
The live sports juggernaut is also having a bit of trouble adapting to life in the digital age – as evidenced by the fact that it laid off 100 staffers in April – but hundreds of millions of people simply cannot imagine life without tuning in.
Watch ESPN app will grant you access
Users within the US can access ESPN easily via their cable TV networks or by downloading the Watch ESPN app. If you prefer to stream online, ESPN servers will determine your IP address and grant you access if it’s able to definitively establish that you’re present in North America.
A cable TV subscription or access to a compatible high-speed internet service is required to stream live ESPN content. A full list is provided here. Both the Watch ESPN app and web portals are available for users in America that don’t log on via a cable TV network or compatible broadband provider, but they’ll only get access to the video-on-demand service. This mainly has highlights and short snippets and is a far cry from the full experience. There’s no online-only option for now.
ESPN does live stream sports events and shows, but you’ll have to log in to the portal via the authentication details provided to you by your cable TV service or broadband provider.