ESPN is the broadcaster for pretty much all major league sports events in North America—MLB, NBA, MLS, NHL, NFL, etc— and they implement blackout restrictions for online viewers. These restrictions prevent you from internet streaming live video of your favorite local teams.
As noted by ESPN, regional blackouts exist to secure the rights of the primary rights holders. ESPN cannot stream in-market games on its broadcast network because someone else, usually a TV station or local cable provider, 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 unlock 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 reliable VPN service to connect to a server in Chicago or Los Angeles and unblock live national games. Each league has its own blackout policies, which you can usually look up on their respective websites.
Our top recommendation is NordVPN. It offers the fastest connection speeds around, as well as unlimited bandwidth and reliable connections. Together, these features mean you’ll be able to 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 packed with powerful security and privacy features.
TRY IT FREE: NordVPN comes with a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee. As such, you can try it out and simply claim a full refund if it fails to meet your expectations.
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 NordVPN in our tests, and it works well to bypass blackouts for professional 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 event 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 NordVPN to be the most reliable option for bypassing ESPN blackouts, and for sports fans in general, we have listed other recommended VPN service providers for ESPN here.
Live blackouts: mobile vs desktop
Live blackouts are blocks streaming services put up to prevent some users from accessing their favorite sports content. Blackouts work by determining a user’s location and then blocking that user from receiving certain video streams.
Live sports streaming services like ESPN+ determine your location using your real 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 to 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 to view online content.
Streaming media devices like Chromecast, Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, Android 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 several 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. If you’re told that the video is temporarily unavailable or are automatically logged out, it means that you’ll have to try a different server. This could be because ESPN detected that you were using a VPN, or simply that your chosen server was in a blacked out region (using one in Dallas won’t allow you to stream FC Dallas matches, for instance).
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+ live blackout restrictions on Android or iOS
The mobile app version of ESPN will require you to turn on your location services to watch any live streaming service or on-demand events. 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 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 & ESPN+ Blackout FAQ
ESPN has a clearly-defined blackout policy that restricts access to certain games. Here are some commonly asked questions about the blackout policy that ESPN enforces with its ESPN+ and other ESPN services.
Why is ESPN blacked out in my area?
Almost all major sports leagues in the US allow each team to negotiate broadcast rights separately. You'll find that most teams have two broadcast tiers: national and local broadcasts.
When an event is happening outside of that team's home area, it's typically broadcast nationally on networks like ESPN and ESPN+. When it's happening in that team's home area, the team typically has broadcast agreements with a Regional Sports Network (RSN) or local broadcast network like FOX or CBS.
If a sporting event is blacked out in your area, check the league's or team's website for local broadcast network information.
Why is ESPN blacked out on DirecTV?
In the past, ESPN has been blacked out on DirecTV due to contract disagreements. In most cases, however, if a game or event on ESPN is blacked out on DirecTV, it's because the game is currently broadcast in your area on a different channel.
Why is ESPN blacked out on Hulu?
Hulu + Live TV operates as a cable TV provider. It identifies your location when you sign up, and that information is used to determine when ESPN should blackout games in your location. If ESPN is blacked out on Hulu for you, that means the game is broadcasting via another channel in your area, either through an RSN or a local broadcast network.
Can I not use a free VPN provider to avoid the ESPN blackout?
Free VPNs have several limitations that make them almost impossible to use effectively with ESPN and ESPN+.
- Free VPNs often lack the proper technology to avoid detection from ESPN's services. ESPN is more likely to detect and block your connection through a free VPN.
- Free VPNs typically lack the available bandwidth to stream live TV. You'll find the streaming quality to be poor or that you can't stream at all without endless buffering.
- Free VPNs typically enforce data limits. Most max out at 150 MB to 300 MB per day, which will only get you several minutes of live TV streaming even at SD quality.
Your best option is to use a paid VPN subscription to bypass ESPN blackouts, as paid VPN providers have the resources to maintain more bandwidth, invest in technology that anonymized the connection, and don't have data limits in place.
Is it Legal to Watch ESPN Using a VPN?
Using a VPN to access ESPN abroad with a valid US cable subscription is legal, and nobody has ever been prosecuted in America for accessing their streaming account abroad to watch sports on vacation.
That said, using a VPN to access ESPN abroad is technically against the Terms of Service, and US cable TV providers and streaming platforms withhold the right to cancel your account if they decide you have violated its rules.
Thankfully, cable providers, streaming services, and ESPN do not spend time or effort tracking down subscribers who use a VPN to access their account from abroad. Instead, they block IP address ranges associated with VPNs. This prevents those VPNs from providing access to ESPN from abroad.
As a result of these efforts, it is imperative to use a VPN that knows how to continue providing access to popular US broadcasters like ESPN. All the VPNs recommended in this guide work to access ESPN from abroad on multiple services, including via ESPN’s website.
Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice, and we recommend that you do your own research and understand your provider’s terms of service before opting to bypass geo-restrictions.
Will using a VPN for the ESPN blackout make my stream slow?
Not necessarily! A VPN encrypts your internet traffic and routes it via one of its own servers. This process can slow your connection somewhat. However, the fastest VPNs offer such good speeds that you're unlikely to notice a difference. Indeed, you should be able to stream in high definition without having to worry about lag or buffering. This is particularly the case if you've been suffering from bandwidth throttling from your ISP.
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.