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How to Get Around ESPN Blackout Dates

How to Get Around ESPN Blackout Restrictions in 2024: Unrestricted Access to Live Sports

U.S. sports fans are sometimes thwarted by the error message, "This content is subject to blackout" on ESPN or ESPN+. To prevent this from becoming an issue for you, we've put together this guide on how to get around ESPN blackout restrictions.

Kit CopsonSandra PattisonIgor Kurtz

Written by Kit Copson (Writer, Briefing Editor)

Reviewed by Sandra Pattison (Writer, Editor)

Facts checked by Igor Kurtz (Fact-checking editor)

Last Updated: 2024-04-10T11:42:24+00:00

All our content is written fully by humans; we do not publish AI writing. Learn more here.

Key Takeaways: How to Get Around a Blackout on ESPN With a VPN
  1. Subscribe to a reliable VPN service and download the app
  2. Open the app and connect to a U.S. server outside the blackout location
  3. Log in to ESPN or ESPN+ and start streaming

Facts & Expert Analysis About ESPN Blackouts: 

  • Blackout policies: U.S. sports streaming services ESPN (TV channel website) and ESPN+ (the official streaming service) sometimes black out select in-market games depending on broadcasting agreements. This is done to protect local or regional rights holders.
  • Getting around blackouts: If a blackout restriction hits you, the game will be unavailable for you to stream. Fortunately, you can use a VPN to circumvent this issue. 
  • Best VPN for blackouts: We recommend ExpressVPN for bypassing ESPN blackout restrictions, but there are plenty of other reliable, fast VPN services to choose from. 

Best VPN for Bypassing ESPN Blackouts

Blackout restrictions are part and parcel of using ESPN, ESPN+ (the platform’s online streaming service) and other streaming services for sports, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with them. In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to get around ESPN blackout restrictions by connecting to a virtual private network (VPN) server. 

VPNs are easy to obtain, and you can get set up and stream live sports with one in a matter of minutes. Not only are they a workaround for blackout restrictions, but you can also use them to access your ESPN+ account while traveling outside the U.S.  

However, you should be careful when choosing a VPN and only opt for a highly secure one like ExpressVPN. Check out our best VPN roundup to see which ones we’ve deemed worthy. For now, let’s get down to business with how to use a VPN to get around ESPN+ blackout games so you can watch the NBA, NHL, MLB and more in peace. 

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  • 11/14/2023

    Updated the article to reflect ExpressVPN’s expansion of server presence from 94 to 105 countries.

  • 04/05/2024 Facts checked

    Rewritten to include tutorials for getting around blackouts on mobile and web browsers, and to update information on our recommended VPNs. We also explain more about what blackouts are and why they happen.

Easy Guide: How to Get Around ESPN Blackout Dates Using a VPN

These steps detail how to get a VPN app and connect to a server to stream your desired game even if there’s a blackout in your area. We’ll use ExpressVPN — our top VPN recommendation — as an example. 

You can also use this method to access ESPN and ESPN+ if you travel outside the U.S.

  1. Pick a Secure VPN

    Settle on a VPN provider with a solid reputation for security, privacy and speed. Visit the provider’s website and subscribe to a plan. Note that ExpressVPN has a 30-day money-back guarantee, so if you want to give it a go, there’s nothing to lose.

    get expressvpn
  2. Download the VPN

    Download the VPN app for your device from the provider’s website, or go to the Apple app store or Google Play store if you’re using a mobile device.

    download expressvpn
  3. Connect to a U.S. Server

    Open the VPN app and connect to a U.S. server outside the blackout region. For example, if the blackout is in Los Angeles, connect to a server like New York or Seattle.

    expressvpn app
  4. Stream the Blacked-Out Game

    Log in to ESPN with your TV provider or your ESPN+ account as normal and stream the blacked-out game.

    espn upcoming

How to Get Around Blackout Restrictions on ESPN by Device

Below, we’ll take you through the quick steps to stream blacked-out games on mobile and in web browsers. Side note: Some smart TVs (like Android TV and Apple TV) let you download VPN apps directly so you can watch blacked-out events on the big screen. However, some devices (like Roku) require manual installation via a router

Desktop vs Mobile Devices: How to Get Around Blackouts on ESPN Plus on Android & iOS

To stream ESPN or ESPN+ live games on an Android or iOS mobile device from locations where the games aren’t available, all you need is a VPN app and the ESPN app. There’s no separate app for ESPN+ — you’ll find ESPN+ content within the ESPN app.  

You can sign up for a VPN on mobile, but you’ll be billed by Apple or Google Play rather than the VPN itself. It’s recommended to sign up in a web browser via the VPN provider directly

  1. Go to the Apple app store (iOS) or Google Play store (Android) and download the VPN app
  2. Connect to a U.S. server in an area outside the blackout zone. 
  3. Open the ESPN app and start streaming. 
How to Bypass ESPN Blackout Restrictions in Your Browser

Several VPNs — including our top pick, ExpressVPN — offer extensions for browsers like Chrome and Firefox to secure your data while using them. Here’s how to get the ExpressVPN browser extension for Chrome on Windows or Mac. However, these steps may be slightly different depending on your operating system, browser and VPN provider. 

  1. Visit the ExpressVPN setup page and sign in if prompted. Then, verify your identity with the code that ExpressVPN emails you. 
  2. Select the browser you’re using (Chrome in our case) and click “get extension.”
  3. Click “add to Chrome” on the next page. 
  4. Open the browser extension in the top-right corner of your screen and connect to a U.S. server outside the blackout zone
  5. Log in to ESPN/ESPN+ and start streaming. 

What Are ESPN Plus Blackout Dates & Why Do They Exist?

If an event airing on ESPN’s website or ESPN+ is blacked out, it means that it’s not available in your area. ESPN blackouts affect in-market teams for specific locations, so if you’re on a team’s home TV territory, then the event that the team is playing in could be blacked out on ESPN+ for you. This happens even if the game is on national TV. 

This is due to broadcasting agreements with regional sports networks and broadcast stations, and according to ESPN’s website, these blackouts are enforced “to protect the primary rights holder.” The rights are negotiated and agreed upon by those who own the content and those who want to distribute it. 

When you stream on ESPN or ESPN+ online, the service knows your location from your IP address. This is where a VPN comes in (more on this further down). 

Is There an ESPN Blackout Map?

No, there aren’t any official ESPN blackout maps, though news outlets may create their own maps from time to time. According to ESPN’s website, you have to check local listings to see if a game is subject to blackouts. If it is, there’ll be a note that says so on the listing. 

ESPN Plus Blackout Error Messages

If you try to access a game that’s unavailable in your area due to issues with broadcasting rights, you may encounter one of the error messages below. If this happens, connect to a U.S. VPN server in a location outside your area to stream as normal. 

  • This event has been blacked out in your area.
  • This content is not available for your package or region.
  • This content is subject to blackout restrictions in your area.

How a VPN Can Bypass ESPN Blackouts

A VPN can bypass ESPN blackout restrictions because it changes your IP address — which ESPN uses to determine your location — when you connect to a server outside your area. The main function of a VPN is to keep your data secure and private so nobody can snoop on it, but its ability to unblock streaming services is a bonus. 

In addition to unblocking streaming services like ESPN+, you can also change your Netflix library and Amazon Prime Video library with a VPN. 

The Best VPNs for Bypassing ESPN Blackouts

If a regional sports network has the broadcasting rights to a game you want to watch and it’s blacked out as a result, no worries. The following VPNs pair great with live sports and can solve this problem in no time.  

1. ExpressVPN — The Best ESPN Blackout VPN App

expressvpn afghanistan
For us, ExpressVPN has always been a secure, consistent and intuitive service.

Pros:

  • Easily unblocks streaming apps
  • Diverse server selection 
  • Easy to use 

Cons:

  • Expensive

We think ExpressVPN is the best choice for keeping up with major sports leagues on ESPN because it never lets us down when we want to access a blocked service. In addition, its desktop and mobile apps are both very intuitive and easy to use for all experience levels, and it has a broad selection of servers both within the U.S. and abroad. 

All these pros come full circle to produce an outstanding VPN with a consistently strong performance overall, which is why ExpressVPN is our go-to recommendation for most purposes. Unfortunately, it’s not the cheapest provider, but you can try its 30-day money-back guarantee if you want to have a go with nothing to lose. You can find more details in our ExpressVPN review

2. NordVPN — Fast Connection Speeds for Local Games

router vpn 2 nordvpn map
NordVPN is an ideal streaming VPN thanks to its impressive speeds and security features.

Pros:

  • Extensive U.S. server selection 
  • Reasonable long-term plans
  • Excellent speeds

Cons:

  • Fiddly mobile app

Like ExpressVPN, NordVPN is a secure VPN service with plenty of extra features to boot and a decent U.S. server selection. It also boasts the best overall speeds in terms of downloads, uploads and latency, making it a powerful streaming VPN.

You can also save a few pennies with NordVPN by opting for one of its long-term plans, all of which come with 30-day money-back guarantees

NordVPN has much in common with ExpressVPN, but it’s not as user-friendly because you need to manually enable certain features like obfuscation, whereas ExpressVPN enables them automatically. NordVPN’s mobile app can also be confusing. However, as long as you can connect to a server — which isn’t tricky at all — you’ll be fine for streaming. Check out our NordVPN review for more.  

3. PrivadoVPN — The Best Free VPN to Watch a Blacked-Out Game

privadovpn argentina
PrivadoVPN has free servers in 10 countries including the U.S.

Pros:

  • Generous free server selection
  • Strong security & privacy
  • Decent speeds

Cons:

  • Only 10GB of free data

PrivadoVPN is among the few free services that truly protect and anonymize your data, winning it a place on our best free VPNs roundup. PrivadoVPN’s free plan comes with 13 server locations, including four U.S. locations (New York, Washington D.C., Miami and Los Angeles) across 10 countries. It also has a 10GB data limit that renews every 30 days. 

The free data limit may be too restrictive for those who want to stream on ESPN+ regularly, but you can consider upgrading if this is the case. Its 24-month plan is as cheap as chips, so you can check it out if you like what PrivadoVPN has to offer. You can get more information on this promising VPN service in our full PrivadoVPN review

Free
  • 10GB
  • 1
Premium
  • *Billed $44.85 for the first 15 months, then $59.88 every 12 months. *Billed $53.73 for the first 27 months, then $95.76 every 24 months.
  • Unlimited GB
  • 10
  • Yes

Can You Use a Free VPN to Watch ESPN Blackout Games?

Yes, but make sure it’s one of those mentioned in our best free VPNs roundup, like PrivadoVPN, Proton VPN, Windscribe, TunnelBear or hide.me. As we touched on above in our discussion of PrivadoVPN, some free VPNs come with serious security issues and holes in their privacy policies, so they shouldn’t be trusted. 

As long as a free VPN features in our best free VPNs guide and has U.S. servers, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t give it a go. Just bear in mind that there may be restrictions like data limits or limited free locations, so if you’re a frequent streamer, you’d be better off with a paid VPN plan. 

Final Thoughts

ESPN blackouts are certainly annoying, but a good VPN lets you stream any game you want, so it’s a must-have for every sports fan with a streaming account. If you’re still undecided on VPNs, try out a free plan or one with a money-back guarantee, like those offered by ExpressVPN and NordVPN

Have you been affected by blackouts? Has a VPN helped you overcome blackouts? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading. 

FAQ: Bypass ESPN Blackouts

  • A sports blackout occurs when a game can’t be broadcast in a certain area due to a conflict of rights. The goal is typically to protect local broadcast rights holders.

  • If a Yankees game is blacked out on YES National, it means that YES National doesn’t have the right to air it outside the Yankees’ local TV territory. It could also mean that a streaming service like Amazon Prime Video or Apple TV+ has the rights to the game.

  • If a game is blacked out on ESPN, it means that one of the teams is in-market for your area. Local broadcasters have the right to air it, so the blackout occurs to protect the local broadcaster or honor certain contracts.

  • You can watch blacked-out games on ESPN+ by connecting to a U.S. VPN server in a location outside the blackout zone.

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