YouTube NFL outage: Should Google give refunds or credits?

An error message for NFL on YouTube and YouTube TV
The error message, seen on October 29, 2023, alerts NFL fans to what they already knew – games were not streaming well. Phil Nickinson/

The good news is that we — by which I mean Google, YouTube, and YouTube TV — made it to the halfway point of the season as the exclusive home of NFL Sunday Ticket without any real kind of major technical hiccups. But on October 29, during week 8 (of 17), problems arose.

As early as Sunday afternoon’s 1 p.m. game, it was clear something was wrong. Buffering problems were rampant. Lag was a real thing. The resolution and bitrate dropped to unacceptable levels. And Google, for its part, noted the issues on social media, as well as a help page. “If you’re experiencing buffering issues on YouTube, our team is aware and working on a fix,” the statement on Twitter said. “YouTube TV or NFL Sunday Ticket could also be impacted. Once this is resolved, we will follow it here.”

A day later, the statement (which did not include the last sentence) was removed from the help page. And it didn’t appear that the @TeamYouTube Twitter account was ever actually followed. (Note to Google and YouTube: Maybe it’s time for a presence on Threads.) But many unhappy customers themselves asked if there would be some kind of refund or credit for the outage. And to be clear, this was not a complete outage. Just the major issues.

It is not unheard of to give subscribers credit for outages. In 2018 YouTube TV issued a credit for an outage during a semi-final game at the FIFA Men’s World Cup, giving subscribers about $10 off their next bill.

This type of planning is a little more complicated this time. For one, it did not appear that the outage was limited to NFL Sunday Ticket, which requires a premium subscription of several hundred dollars per year. People who only subscribed to YouTube TV and were receiving broadcast games were also affected, and it wasn’t just one game that was unwatchable. (And things appeared to calm down until the evening game.)

So what is its value? $10 or more off your next bill for YouTube TV subscribers? Or should NFL Sunday Ticket customers get credit for a full Sunday? Depending on what you paid, that could be anywhere from about $17 to $29. Of course, anyone who struggles to watch games isn’t going to turn down a bit of free money. But you can understand that Google is in no rush to find out who owes what to whom.

And it’s worth noting that it doesn’t seem like Google actually needs to do anything. A quick trip through NFL Sunday Ticket’s terms and conditions pretty much reveals that you pay for the service, and that’s it. No provision for compensation for outage. It reads, “Payment for an NFL Sunday Ticket subscription is non-refundable in full and/or in part.” “Once your payment method has been charged for a season, you will not be able to receive a refund for that season.”

Google should at least apologize. Unfortunately, streaming issues will occasionally occur. Even if the compensation isn’t fair, an explanation is warranted. We’ve reached out to Google to see if they have any information on what happened and whether any compensation is forthcoming.

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