By Phillip Swann
TV Answer Man, @tvanswerman

Reader Question

TV Answer Man, I want to watch the Lakers on NBA League Pass but I live in Manhattan Beach so the games are blacked out in my area. If I get a VPN, will that let me avoid the blackouts? — Steve, Manhattan Beach, California.
Steve, with the 2023-24 NBA season starting this week, fans are scrambling to find a way to watch their favorite team without blackouts and/or shelling out scores of dollars for a pay TV service. The streaming NBA League Pass, which starts at $14.99 a month, would seem like a nice option but the plan only includes out-of-market games. That means if you live in a team’s market, such as Manhattan Beach in the Los Angeles Lakers’ territory, the League Pass will black out the home team’s games.

As I do when the Major League Baseball season starts, I’ve received some e-mails asking if a Virtual Private Network (VPN) would serve as a workaround. Well, the VPN can beat the blackouts, but there are a number of questions regarding its legality, whether it’s ethical, and how to install one. Let me try here to put those questions to bed here.

Is Using a VPN to Avoid Sports Blackouts Legal?

You can avoid in-market blackouts on NBA TV by using a VPN, which is a software that you can download that enables you to use an IP address different from your own. For instance, if you live in Manhattan Beach, you could insert an IP address supplied by the VPN company that would say you live in Georgia or even Denmark. Then, you could subscribe to the NBA TV online package and watch the Lakers on Spectrum SportsNet because the IP address wouldn’t say Manhattan Beach. But what would the NBA think of that if the league caught you? Here’s what the League Pass’ terms of agreement say:

“You agree that you will not use any Service if you are located outside of the allowable territories or in an area where blackout restrictions apply.   IF YOU CIRCUMVENT, OR ATTEMPT TO CIRCUMVENT, ANY BLACKOUT RESTRICTION OR OTHER USE RESTRICTION: YOUR SUBSCRIPTION WILL BE SUBJECT TO IMMEDIATE TERMINATION AND A CHARGE OF ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS ($100.00) FOR EARLY TERMINATION; AND YOU MAY BE SUBJECT TO LEGAL ACTION.” (Yes, it’s upper case in the terms.)

That sounds like the league might come after you if you get caught. But Major League Baseball has the same policy for its MLB TV streaming service and a MLB spokesman revealed to The TV Answer Man last year that the league has never pursued someone who has used a VPN in civil or criminal court. We don’t know if that’s because the league doesn’t think it would win, but it is revealing that it has never tried to enforce any ban on VPNs. And like the NBA League Pass terms, MLB TV doesn’t refer to the use of VPNs in the terms or specifically say they can’t be used. We also are not aware of any case the NBA has filed against a VPN user.

Are MLB And The NBA Cracking Down On VPNs?

This certainly runs counter to the public perception that MLB and the NBA are trying to crack down on VPN use and they are prepared to use the courts when necessary. This is not to suggest that either league is saying you should use a VPN. (The pay TV services that pay handsomely to carry regional sports channels wouldn’t appreciate that. If everyone used a VPN for MLB TV, they wouldn’t need to subscribe to the pay TV services.) But the league certainly isn’t telling you not to use a VPN specifically in the terms of agreement.

In the past when addressing this topic, I’ve noted there’s also an ethical question here. By using a VPN, you are clearly attempting to “circumvent” a blackout restriction, which is against the MLB TV and NBA League Pass rules. If you’re an ethical person, you might hesitate before installing one. But if you’re okay with the ethics and any legal risk, the VPN can help you avoid a sports blackout.

Before you start searching for a VPN, however, allow me to caution that I am not an attorney, and this article does not constitute legal advice in any way, shape or form. But if you use one, here’s the basics on how to install it.

Step 1: Choose a VPN Provider

The first step in installing a VPN on your home network is to choose a VPN provider that suits your needs. There are many VPN providers available in the market, and you need to do your research to find the best one for you. Some of the things to consider when choosing a VPN provider include their privacy policy, server locations, connection speed, and compatibility with your devices.

Step 2: Subscribe to the VPN service

Once you have chosen a VPN provider, the next step is to subscribe to their service. Most VPN providers offer different subscription plans, so choose the one that suits your budget and needs. After subscribing, you will receive an email with instructions on how to download and install the VPN software.

Step 3: Download and install the VPN software

After subscribing to the VPN service, the next step is to download and install the VPN software on your devices. Most VPN providers offer software for various platforms, including Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. You can download the software from the VPN provider’s website or app store.

Step 4: Configure the VPN software

After installing the VPN software, the next step is to configure it. Open the VPN software and enter your login credentials. You will also need to select the server location you want to connect to. Choose a server location that is nearest to you for faster connection speed.

Step 5: Connect to the VPN server

After configuring the VPN software, the final step is to connect to the VPN server. Click on the connect button, and the VPN software will establish a secure connection with the server. You can now browse the internet securely and anonymously.

Step 6: Configure your home router

If you want to protect all devices connected to your home network, you can configure your home router to use the VPN connection. To do this, you will need to log in to your router’s configuration page and enter the VPN server details. You can find the VPN server details on your VPN provider’s website or support page.

Steve, hope this article was helpful. Happy viewing and stay safe!

Need to buy something today? Please buy it using one of the Amazon links here. This site receives a small portion of each purchase, which helps us continue to provide these articles.

Have a question about new TV technologies? Send it to The TV Answer Man at swann@tvanswerman.com Please include your first name and hometown in your message.

— Phillip Swann