Q. Is there any hope for sports fans who have Dish? We have been without our Fox sports channel forever, or so it feels like!! Will they ever settle this thing? Is there anything we can do about it? I want to watch the Brewers during the stretch drive! But I don’t watch to switch from Dish because I’m under one of those contracts — John, Milwaukee.
John, on July 26, both Dish and its live streaming service, Sling TV, lost 22 different Fox Sports regional channels (including your Fox Sports Wisconsin, which carries the Milwaukee Brewers games) due to a disagreement over how much they should pay Fox to carry them.
I have hope that the two companies will reach a deal sooner than later, perhaps even this month. (Read this article for more information.) But until they do, there is something that can allow you to watch your Brewers without fear of any blackout.
It’s called VPN.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, a software that you can download that will enable you to use an IP address different from your own when you surf the Internet. For instance, if you live in Milwaukee, you could insert an IP address into your computer or Smart TV device that would make it look like you live in Denmark. (The VPN service supplies the IP address.) The cost of a VPN varies, but many services sell them for under $10 a month.
And how would this allow you to watch the Brewers?
You could subscribe to Major League Baseball’s streaming plan, MLB.TV, which is now offering the remainder of the season for just $26.99. Or you could get a single team, such as the Brewers, for just $15.99.
Normally, the Brewers would be blacked out in your area on MLB.TV. But with a VPN, which changes your local IP address from the Milwaukee area to a non-Milwaukee area, you would get their games. No blackouts.
Let me add here that this would work for any team in the United States. For example, if you are a Dish subscriber in San Diego, and your Fox Sports San Diego is blacked out because of the Fox Sports carriage dispute, you could still watch the Padres with MLB.TV and a VPN.
But what exactly is the law that MLB suggests you would break if you use a VPN? The league is silent on that one. There is no reference to a criminal statute in the VPN section, and there is no record that the league has ever taken a violator to either criminal or civil court.
There are plenty of online testimonies from subscribers that the league has cancel their subscriptions for using a VPN, but again, no record it has ever brought criminal charges, despite the implicit threat it would do so.
I think it’s pretty clear that there isn’t a specific law that would govern the use of a VPN to stream the games. Otherwise, the league would cite it, and use it, when it catches someone in violation.
Afterall, the league actually refers to the use of VPNs in MLB.TV’s FAQ section for its blackout policy. The league explains how a game could be blacked out in a home because of a VPN.
“If you are accessing the Internet through a VPN connection, you might be getting a blackout message because the host IP address for the VPN is within the restricted range of the game that you are trying to access,” the site says. (For example,if your VPN uses a St. Louis IP, you couldn’t watch the Cardinals.)
So there you go, John. You want to watch the Brewers and keep your Dish subscription? It can be done.
Have a question about new TV technologies? Send it to The TV Answer Man at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and hometown in your message.
— Phillip Swann