Looking to stream matches featuring your local team on ESPN+ or NHL.tv? Unfortunately, due to regional blackouts, this isn’t normally possible. However, with the right Virtual Private Network (VPN), you can spoof your location and regain access from anywhere. Read on to find out what NHL blackouts are, why they’re used, and how you can get around them.
The NHL’s 2021/22 season began on October 12 and will run until April 29. With the worst of the pandemic (hopefully) behind us, we’re returning to the classic 95-game season, culminating with the Stanley Cup on May 2.
Unfortunately, subscribers in the US and Canada may find that they’re only able to watch games taking place outside of their state, or ones where their local team is playing, this means if you are traveling you might not be able to watch you usual home streaming services. This kind of regional locking is called a blackout, but don’t worry: below, we’ll explain how to access you usual home streaming services and watch NHL fixtures, on whichever device you’d like, wherever you are.
How to bypass NHL blackouts: a quick guide
The simplest way to beat NHL.tv and ESPN+ blackouts is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), Here’s a quick guide to unblocking NHL games with a VPN:
- Start by signing up for a suitable VPN. We recommend NordVPN.
- Install the VPN software, making sure to get the right app for your operating system, and log in.
- Connect to one of your VPN’s servers in the required location. For instance, if the Dallas Stars were playing the Toronto Maple Leafs, you could use a US or Canadian server based anywhere other than Toronto or Texas (due to team-specific blackouts).
- Log in to your ESPN+ or NHL.tv account. You should find that you can now access games that were previously subject to a blackout.
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What is a regional blackout and why are they used?
Regional blackouts are a strict form of geo-blocking. Simply, in addition to stopping users from overseas from watching anything, NHL blackouts also prevent some games from being viewed online in specific states. But why is this? After all, haven’t ESPN+ and NHL.tv subscribers already paid to watch?
The problem is that the NHL often sells its games’ local broadcast rights to local networks. There are other factors, such as whether a team is playing at home or away. For example, if you live in Toronto, you’ll only be able to watch the Maple Leafs play on the regional broadcast network. For the Maple Leafs, it’s Sportsnet Ontario, but each team has a different local broadcaster.
So how can NHL.tv or ESPN tell where you’re located? There are three main ways: firstly, you’ll be asked to enter your ZIP code when registering. This is the most basic form of geo-location tracking, and can be easily bypassed, which is why most services combine this approach with IP-based geo-location: using your IP address to see roughly where you’re located.
Finally, there’s location-based tracking. This is the preferred method for mobile devices since it’s slightly more difficult to spoof your GPS location than change your IP address. You can, of course, turn GPS off, however, some services just won’t let you watch anything without it.
How to bypass regional NHL blackouts
Getting around regional blackouts is done slightly differently on desktop and mobile devices. Take a look below to find out how you can watch every NHL fixture from anywhere in the world.
Bypassing NHL blackouts on a PC or Mac
On PC or Mac computers, you can unblock blacked out NHL matches the same way you’d unblock any other geo-blocked service. Just connect to one of your VPN’s servers in a location where the match you’d like to watch isn’t subject to a blackout, then visit the NHL.tv or ESPN+ site and login. The NHL even has a handy tool you can use to find out which teams have blackouts in your region.
You should find that your content loads almost instantly but if not, don’t panic. Often, once a website has found that you’re not in the correct region, they’ll store this information in your browser and automatically prevent access, even if you’re actually in the appropriate location. To bypass this, try clearing your browser’s cache and deleting your cookies. You can also force a hard refresh by holding the CTRL key (Shift on Mac) and clicking the refresh button.
Bypassing NHL blackouts on Android or iOS
Bypassing the blackouts on mobile devices is a little trickier due to your device’s geo-location services. We recommend trying to bypass ESPN and NHL.tv restrictions using your phone’s web browser and a VPN, and avoiding the apps altogether. To watch via either service’s app, you’ll have to turn on location services. This presents a real problem since there’s no easy way to spoof your phone’s GPS location.
While there are several apps that allow you to do this, you should note that these require a rooted or jailbroken device. Further, there’s no guarantee that these apps are safe to use; usually, if a free app claims to allow you to “hack” services, it’s just going to infect your system with malware. If spoofing your GPS is something you’re interested in, we’d recommend doing thorough research on any app you install and making yourself aware of the risks involved before you begin.
Can I beat NHL blackouts with a free VPN?
Using a free VPN might seem like an easy way to stay safe online and stream the NHL abroad, but these services have several major disadvantages. To begin with, they usually have more users than their networks can support. This causes long loading times, choppy video, and sporadic disconnection — three things that you don’t want when watching sports live. Further, NHL.tv and ESPN+ both have strong geo-restriction measures built-in, so there’s no guarantee that a free VPN would even work.
How do free VPNs pay for their networks without charging the user directly? You might assume it’s just by inserting ads into the sites you visit, but some go even further. By storing tracking cookies on your device, they can monitor which websites you like and how often you visit. This information is valuable, and once there’s enough of it, free VPNs can sell it to third parties without your knowledge. VPNs are designed to stop people from seeing your online activities, but free VPNs don’t necessarily do this: they merely decide for you who gets to see your personal information.
Even using a free VPN is a risky prospect. According to a survey of almost 300 free VPN apps for Android, over 38% included malware, 18% did not use encryption, and shockingly, over 80% were vulnerable to IPv6 leaks. You might think that using a well-known service would lower the risk, but even Hola, a major free VPN provider, has a history of shady business dealings; in 2015, it was caught selling idle user bandwidth to help run a botnet. To keep yourself and your personal information safe, we recommend using a reputable VPN with a clear and demonstrable commitment to protecting its customers’ privacy.
NHL 2021/22 schedule
There are 95 games in the 2021/22 regular NHL season. However, as many of these matches begin simultaneously, it pays to know which you want to watch in advance. While there are too many fixtures to list here, you can plan ahead by consulting the full 2021/22 NHL schedule.