Sports are incredibly fun and exciting…as long as you can see the game live. That’s one reason why traditional broadcast networks and cable channels have survived in spite of streaming digital video – they reserve the rights to show the game live to prevent people from pulling the content through their web browsers.
Conversely, some digital media channels lack the ephemeral excitement of the game.
Anyone who has had to DVR a game knows exactly what I’m talking about. And some people even try to post copies of the game on YouTube. But the problem is that when you view a sporting event on a site like YouTube, you’re really just seeing old news.
It already happened, and like getting ice cream from the grocery store instead of the ice cream truck…it’s just not the same. Plus, with social media it’s nearly impossible to prevent yourself from seeing the outcome ahead of time, thus spoiling the surprise.
“Regardless of which team you support, it’s a real pain to find out that the NHL has blacked out a game in your area.”
It’s just utterly inconvenient, because we don’t always have the luxury of having free time at home or in front of a television for every single game. For example, we might be on a break at work or in between classes at school, where it would make a lot of sense to fill our free time with the NHL. But the blackout rules prohibit us from watching our favorite teams play.
If you want to see whether or not a game will be blocked out in your area, you can use this tool on the NHL’s website that only asks for your zip code. As opposed to other sporting league’s blackout rules, it seems that the NHL uses zip code as the primary way to blackout games. But how do you circumvent these annoying restrictions?
How to Beat the Blackout Once and for All
Fortunately, there is good news. Despite the NHL’s best efforts to prevent users from viewing blacked out games, there are still two extremely effective methods of viewing games during a blackout.
Firstly, you could simply use a VPN tunnel. Secondly, you could use a proxy service. But each option has its own benefits and drawbacks, so let’s take a moment to discuss each in detail.
One option is to simply use a proxy service. For those of you who didn’t know, you can also use something called SmartDNS, which is really just a proxy service under a different name.
Essentially, a proxy service will act as a middle man between your computer or mobile device and the NHL servers. Since the proxy server has a different IP address, it will appear to be in a different geographic region, thus fooling the servers into allowing you to view the game.
However, not all SmartDNS and proxy services were created equally. Some VPN providers, like HMA VPN, offer quality SmartDNS services. Other providers bundle SmartDNS within their services as well. As a word of caution, however, note that all of your web traffic is going to first be routed through the proxy server unless you apply special configurations.
Furthermore, I would highly advise you to stay away from sketchy free proxy services. Just Google “free proxy server” and you’re going to get a list chock full of questionable proxies.
The problem with these services is that we don’t know if they are legitimate since we don’t always know who is running them. There have been numerous attacks in the past whereby a hacker set up a proxy server and used wiretapping techniques (like a simple packet sniffer) to capture, intercept, and read users’ data.
You see, the problem with proxy servers is that they don’t do anything to encrypt traffic. Unless you are browsing to a website that uses HTTPS or SSL to secure the connection, all of your data is going to be sent in plain text.
This means that any old hacker, ISP, a governmental agency (e.g. the NSA), or a third party would be able to read your traffic. And since, by default, all of your web traffic flows through a proxy server without special browser configurations, you’re taking a massive security risk.
In summary, here are the drawbacks of using a proxy service:
- SmartDNS typically costs money, and for the price, you might as well get a VPN tunnel since it adds security and encryption to the connections
- Proxy services hosted by non-legitimate firms pose security risks (for all you know, it could be hosted by some shady individual living in his mother’s basement)
- Proxy servers don’t do anything to secure your data, because they don’t use encryption
So does that mean that you shouldn’t ever use a proxy server or SmartDNS? Not at all. The truth is that they do provide a viable workaround for the NHL blackouts. Don’t get me wrong, proxy servers can be used effectively, and some VPN providers even provide free proxy servers. However, VPN tunnels are the preferred alternative, as we’ll discuss next.
VPN tunnels are fundamentally different from proxy servers because, in addition to spoofing your geographic location, they add encryption. When your traffic is encrypted by a VPN tunnel, there’s literally nothing a third party can do to read your data (with exception to one VPN protocol called PPTP, which is so old it can be cracked now).
And a VPN tunnel will still provide every benefit that a proxy service does. That is, VPN servers still act as a middle man, making requests to web services (like NHL servers) on your behalf, effectively acting as a middle man.
“But one of the best reasons to use a VPN tunnel is that they are hosted by legitimate, trustworthy firms.”
However, note that most providers will log some inconsequential data, such as the time a VPN connection started, its duration, which server was connected to, and the total amount of data that was transmitted. This data helps them plan for capacity constraints on their network, so they can bring up new servers if one geographic region experiences a bottleneck.
And even though they do cost money, you can actually find VPN services that are cheaper than SmartDNS services. It seems ludicrous – absoultely crazy – that you can find a VPN service for less than a SmartDNS service since they provide more features.
For example, PureVPN offers a subscription option that makes the monthly cost only $2.49. On the other hand, some proxy services cost closer to the $4.99 price point.
In summary, here are the advantages of a VPN over a simple proxy service:
- Sometimes, VPN services can be cheaper than SmartDNS
- VPN tunnels encrypt your data, making it impossible for third parties to read what information you’re transmitting through the public Internet
- VPN service providers bundle extra security features with their services, such as VPN kill-switches, DNS leak protection, and NAT firewalls for additional layers of security
So which alternative is better? It might be easier to answer the question, “How long is a piece of string?” It all depends on your needs.
That said, VPNs are clearly superior to proxy services and SmartDNS because they provide a multitude of security benefits that will protect your data as it is in transit through the public Internet.
In my humble opinion, I’d recommend using a VPN tunnel since it will protect all of your other traffic as well. But if you only need access to one blacked out hockey game, a proxy server or SmartDNS may still be an attractive alternative.