Pretty much all major league sports events in North America—MLB, NBA, MLS, NHL, NFL, etc—implement blackout restrictions on online viewers. These restrictions prevent you from streaming live video of your favorite local teams.
As noted by ESPN, blackouts exist to secure the rights of the primary rights holders. ESPN cannot stream in-market games because someone else, usually a TV station, has bought exclusive broadcast rights for viewers in the region. This not only affects the games played at home, but also local teams playing away games.
A VPN is an effective workaround for ESPN blackouts. Short for Virtual Private Network, a VPN routes your internet connection through a server in another location. By connecting to a VPN server outside of the blackout region, you can unblock region-locked streams, or even watch ESPN+ while abroad. For example, if you’re in New York and the Yankees are blacked out on ESPN+, you can use a VPN to connect to a server in Chicago or Los Angeles and unblock live games.
Our top recommendation is ExpressVPN. It offers fast speeds and reliable connections so you can stream every game in HD. It has plenty of server locations in the US, so finding one outside of each game’s blackout region is easy. Plus, it comes with a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
3 MONTHS FREE: Get an additional three months free here when you sign up for ExpressVPN’s annual plan. The deal includes its 30-day no quibbles money-back guarantee so you’ll receive a full refund if unsatisfied.
Each league has its own blackout policies, which you can usually look up on their respective websites.
How to Bypass ESPN live blackouts with a VPN
If a game is blacked out, you may get a message that indicates you are blacked out due to regional restrictions. However, from testing, we also found that ESPN may also display a message saying that the content is unavailable, or may even log you out from your account if you try to load a blacked out live game or replay.
Here’s how to bypass ESPN+ live blackout restrictions:
- Sign up for and download a quality VPN with enough bandwidth and server locations to get access to every blacked out game you want. We’ve been using ExpressVPN in our tests, and it works well to bypass blackouts for major league sports.
- Install the VPN app on your device. Note that smartphones might not work because ESPN will check your GPS location in addition to your IP address.
- Connect to a server location where the game you want to watch is not blacked out. We’ve had success bypassing blackouts through servers in different locations in the US.
- Open your web browser and go to ESPN.com or open the app. Log in to your account. You will now be able to access both live games and replays for ESPN+ that would normally be blacked out.
While we’ve found ExpressVPN to be the most reliable option for bypassing ESPN blackouts we have list of other recommended VPNs for ESPN here.
Live blackouts: mobile vs desktop
Live blackouts are blocks streaming services put up to prevent some users from accessing content. Blackouts work by determining a user’s location and then blocking that user from receiving certain video streams.
Live streaming services like ESPN+ determine your location using your IP address and, if you have one on your device, your GPS location. Every device connected to the internet has a unique IP address that indicates the device’s approximate location. A VPN can hide your IP address, but not your GPS location.
These services also require you to have location services turned “on” from the device you’re using so that they can determine your true location. Additionally, when you sign up for service, you are required to provide your zip code.
The use of location services is more common on mobile devices, whereas you may be able to avoid enabling location services on a web browser. That said, streaming services like ESPN+ may force you to turn on location services in order to view content.
Streaming media devices like Chromecast, Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, and game consoles aren’t usually equipped with GPS. However, save for the Fire TV, they’re usually not compatible with VPN apps, either. So if you’re using one of these devices, consider setting up the VPN on your wifi router.
Bypass ESPN+ live blackouts on a web browser
VPNs are useful for a number of reasons, but ESPN+ users will find the region-hopping function particularly useful. By connecting to a VPN, you will be assigned a new IP address. You can choose to connect to a region outside of where the blackout is occurring, which should let you access blocked live streams and replays.
This bypass using a VPN is easy to accomplish if you’re using a web browser. After installing and setting up your VPN of choice, select a server location and then connect.
We tested this out using ExpressVPN’s Dallas server. When we connected and tried to load a replay for FC Dallas vs. Orlando City SC, we got two messages. First, we were told the video was temporarily unavailable:
Then, then page automatically reloaded a few times until we were logged out of our account:
Connecting to a server in Los Angeles, however, resulted in the stream loading properly:
As shown, through a web browser, all you need to do is connect to a VPN outside of the blacked out region in order to access the streams you need.
If you’re still finding yourself blocked, you may need to clear your browser cache and cookies. ESPN may be accessing these files in your browser to determine your actual location.
Bypassing ESPN 3 or ESPN+ live blackout restrictions on Android or iOS
The mobile app version of ESPN will require you to turn on your location services any order to watch any live streaming or on-demand events. In order to provide your location, you need to allow your GPS location on your device. As such, you cannot spoof your location using a mobile device. At present, no effective methods exist to spoof GPS location, save for rooting or jailbreaking your device.
That said, you might want to try to try some additional steps to get a VPN working with the mobile app. Our guide to bypassing MLB.tv blackouts has a few additional tips. We cannot guarantee that any of these methods will work to bypass the GPS location requirement employed by ESPN’s Android and iOS apps.
ESPN’s blackout policy
ESPN’s blackout policy for ESPN+ is as follows:
Certain live sporting events and other content available through the ESPN+ service subscription may be subject to blackouts. For example, if you are in the home television territory of a team participating in a game, then the game may be blacked-out for viewing or live viewing as part of your ESPN+ service subscription (or other applicable third-party services). Blackouts will be enforced according to the location from which you are accessing the ESPN+ service or the applicable third-party services, and we may use different technologies and methods to verify your geographic location. If you do not enable location access on your device, you will not be able to access the ESPN+ service.