People are using VPNs more during major sporting events like the Super Bowl

Are you ready for some football?
Are you ready for some football?
Image: AP Photo/Al Behrman
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People around the world are turning to virtual private networks, or VPNs, more often to stream major sporting events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics, providers are finding. Both events return to the airwaves next week—Super Bowl 52 will be held in the US on Feb. 4 and the 2018 Winter Olympics open in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Feb. 9.

VPNs connect computers, smartphones, and other devices to the internet through servers run by those providers. The data traveling between the devices and the servers are encrypted, and because VPN providers have servers around the world, people sometimes use the services to fool the internet into thinking their computers are located elsewhere in order to access geo-restricted content.

During last year’s Super Bowl weekend, popular global provider ExpressVPN found that organic traffic to its site increased 10% compared to the weekend before. ExpressVPN doesn’t track what people do on its network for privacy and security purposes, but ExpressVPN vice president Harold Li told Quartz that during Super Bowl weekend, there was an increase in people coming to the site by searching for the sporting event or through specific pages or partner links set up for the Super Bowl.

Another VPN service, Witopia, also reports regular rises in sales and traffic during major sporting events globally. And a spokesperson for provider NordVPN says the company typically sees boosts during international sporting events, and that this is a growing trend; NordVPN saw a 7% increase in streamers during the 2017 Super Bowl compared to the prior year’s game.

Generally, the biggest spikes during sporting events come from areas where there are large concentrations of fans combined with a lack of good coverage, a spokesperson for Witopia says. Li at ExpressVPN notes that many VPN users who watch sports are trying to bypass the time delays on their local broadcasts, especially for international events like the Olympics that are held in different time zones throughout the world. For example, during the 2012 Summer Olympics, Witopia saw many in the US access its UK servers to watch the BBC’s coverage instead of US broadcaster NBC’s. That may have been, in part, because it allowed those in the US to watch the games live as opposed to the time-delayed US broadcast. The 2016 Summer Games boosted traffic to ExpressVPN by 17%, and the following countries had the largest share of the traffic:

  • US
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • the UK
  • Malaysia
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • Swedon
  • Hong Kong
  • China

Li says market research shows that American expats abroad and, to a lesser extent, locals who are interested in the sports and either do not have access locally or prefer the US broadcast, are the most common users of VPNs to stream US events like the Super Bowl and March Madness. For example, during Super Bowl 51 last year, NordVPN saw big usage spikes in Canada and France, where there are large concentrations of US citizens.

ExpressVPN and NordVPN say they saw traffic or usage lifts from other global TV events, like 

Game of Thrones

, The Golden Globes, and The Academy Awards. But ExpressVPN says these spikes were generally smaller than those for major sporting events.