Why Does NFL Game Pass Barely Function Now?
12:37 PM EDT on October 10, 2021
NFL Game Pass is not good anymore. If you’re not a big tape-eater like me, you might not know this. You might not even know what NFL Game Pass is. It used to be a great product, a place to rewatch any and every game, a place where you could find both the broadcast footage and the coaches' film—the holy grail for football analysts, which shows every player on the field from a single high angle—also called the All-22.
But over the summer, Game Pass removed the All-22 film from the site as part of a big redesign. The All-22 didn’t come back until Week 3 of this season, and the updates to the interface are so bad that three NFL analysts that I talked to for this story said they are using VPNs to access the international version of Game Pass, which is better-designed and never dropped the All-22.
“The U.S. version was never great,” said Derrik Klassen, who writes a film room series for Football Outsiders. ”Sometimes plays wouldn’t run when you clicked on them in the play log or the game would randomly restart, but it was at least functional enough to get the job done. This is the first year it’s been basically unusable.”
Another NFL writer found a different workaround, but would not disclose his new arrangement for acquiring film; perhaps he's afraid of the NFL closing that loophole, or perhaps he wants to keep his competitive edge over other tape-eaters. That writer, who asked that he not be named to protect his methods, also said that there’s now a secret society of film-heads who are using the international version of Game Pass, then Quicktime screen-recording the All-22 film of a full game, and then sharing those files with each other, so that they have an easier way to play back the All-22 film without having to fight the new Game Pass interface.
I knew the U.S. Game Pass didn’t have the All-22 at the start of the season, and I’m not that nerdy so I didn’t bother to get a VPN, whatever that is. I just waited for the All-22 to arrive, and when it did in Week 3, I attempted to watch the pitiful Bears offense to see how bad the offensive line protection really was against the Browns. But after feeling totally lost in the new interface, and not being able to scroll and search through plays, and not being able to see anything through the grayed-out screen, I gave up out of frustration, ready to organize protests to bring back the old Game Pass.
Game Pass previously had an incredible sidebar that listed every play in the game, the down and distance, time on the clock and outcome of the play. You could search directly for a player’s name or an outcome like “punt” or “intercepted” to find a specific play. And then when you found that play, Game Pass would show you two angles, sideline and endzone, one right after the other. There was also a slo-mo button that was great for seeing exactly what happened on a play. You could use your computer keys to pause and rewind.
The 2021 edition of Game Pass removed that entire sidebar, and instead of a searchable list right next to the video, there is a drive-by-drive list underneath the film. Now, you have to click the drop-down arrow next to each drive to see the plays in that drive, and then you can search for a name or a result by control-F searching the page. The 2021 version does not play the two views side-by-side; you have to pick one or the other. It also seems to be loading slower and playing fuzzier, and when you hit play, the grayed-out play bar remains over the play for a few seconds, making it hard to see what is going on. The play bar used to be on the bottom of the screen and now it’s dead center, right on top of all the action. And the archive of All-22 tape from seasons past is gone.
Ben Solak, who writes for The Ringer, pointed out that Game Pass also used to have a feature that allowed you to search by player name or play type, whereas the new version, like the international version that he uses, doesn’t have that. “So throughout the year, if I see like, a cool reverse that the Packers are running that the Niners ran against them in Week 3, I won't be able to search for that play and quickly find it,” he said over Twitter DM. “I have to go back to the Week 3 video file and search all the way through it until I find it, or cross reference with another publicly available game log.”
Solak says he’s keeping his own tags on specific plays, and for now it’s working, but as the games and plays accumulate, this system will break down. “Later in the season it’ll hurt a lot,” he said. “Offseason too. Being able to say, 'I just want to see Deebo Samuel's targets' is really helpful when you're working on a piece about that archetype of WR, or looking to make an NFL Draft comparison, or writing something specific about Shanahan's offense. Over three weeks, it isn't as hard to account for that—over 17 weeks, it will be.”
If you search "Game Pass" on Twitter, you’ll find a lot of people complaining about these changes, so I emailed the NFL Network spokesperson Andrew Howard to find out why these “updates” were made at all. Howard said that the redesign was made with the purpose of integrating NFL Game Pass into NFL.com and “across NFL Mobile and connected TVs to make it more accessible for users.”
“For the All-22 film, where in the past users would have to toggle between NFL Game Pass and the content on NFL.com as separate entities, users can now access everything in the same place to make for a more unified and cohesive experience. This process began in the summer with the primary focus being to make sure users were able to access NFL Game Pass overall. The core users of NFL Game Pass utilize the product to watch live preseason games, re-watch the game broadcasts and access the radio broadcasts.”
That last sentence is probably key—reporters and analysts are not in fact the biggest group of NFL Game Pass subscribers. We’re the power users, the ones with the megaphones, but we’re not the majority of paying subscribers. We've never cared if NFL Game Pass was on the same website as NFL.com, and I'm not even sure when the last time I went to NFL.com was.
On the Thursday that launched Week 4’s games, a group of NFL writers met with the Game Pass developers over Zoom to discuss how to make the product better. The reporters had several clear goals: Bring back searchability, sideline and endzone angles together, and post the All-22 film faster, and at a dedicated time. The broadcast footage will post about an hour after a game, but the All-22 typically won’t post until Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week, when many writers have already moved on to the next week’s games.
The Game Pass developers took lots of notes, and the sense from reporters in the meeting was that the Game Pass crew genuinely had no idea how reporters and analysts were actually using the product. They had been so focused on integrating NFL Game Pass into NFL.com, that they hadn’t known a section of the audience needed some of the old features. This was all news to them, and the changes will likely take some time to take effect.
“It's the media's job to report the truth and talk about what is going on in a game but when you watch the game from the broadcast, you are only getting a third of the truth,” said the writer who wanted to remain anonymous. “You are only seeing the QB, you have no idea what is going on in the secondary, you can’t see the offensive or defensive lines that well, which is why the end-zone angle is so important. It should be the NFL's responsibility to provide the media with the All-22 film in a timely manner.”
Howard said that Game Pass is limited by the NFL’s Football Operations and Competition Committee. “Given that teams use this type of film for review and scouting, the delay is to allow teams an opportunity to review their own film before making it publicly available,” Howard said. “That is why the All-22 film is available 48–72 hours after the game concludes, and this process will not change.”
Sigh. Tape-eating is getting harder and harder by the day, and while the redesign flaws don't seem to be malicious or purposeful, none of this added difficulty for reporters and analysts in viewing the league’s main product, the actual football being played every Sunday, makes any sense.
“Football is one of the most complicated sports as far as strategy is concerned,” the anonymous writer told me. “So wouldn't you want to showcase that part of the game to your audience?”
I know that most of you reading this won’t cry any tears for NFL reporters who can’t search for the latest Daniel Jones fumble and break it down in excruciating detail, but I am still writing this in the hope that the Game Pass decision-makers, whoever they may be, are reading.
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