NFL Game Pass developer admits to fake reviews by employees as users vent at catalogue of errors

The app has long been the European NFL fans' safe refuge but since deltatre took over Game Pass this summer, users have vented their anger at the inferior product. And the developers now admit they used underhand tactics to try and salvage the app's reputation

Ed Malyon
Friday 06 October 2017 14:03 BST
NFL's Game Pass app in Europe has not lived up to user's expectations
NFL's Game Pass app in Europe has not lived up to user's expectations

“New app works great! Lots of features”

“Great to see a fantastic UX on this app with super navigation”

“Simple flow… Easy to navigate”

“Wonderful app!”

“Love it. Video quality is great and streaming is smooth”

If it were your company taking over the developing of a successful app for a $12bn revenue sports league like the NFL, these sorts of reviews would be exactly what you’d want to hear.

And as ever with things that are too good to be true, they turned out to be just that.

Being an NFL fan in Europe is not easy.

The time differences mean the primetime action comes in the early hours of the morning and yet the sport has never been so popular on these shores. There are now four games every year in London as part of the International Series and the BBC provide excellent coverage of the game, even if Sky Sports’ offering is a bit more basic. talkSPORT broadcast a weekly show as well as live radio commentary on Sundays and analysis in the British written press is better than ever before.

But the prime offering remains the product itself, and NFL’s Game Pass app has been the best in the business for ‘OTT’ broadcasting, packaging up live games, archive content, the brilliant RedZone, downloadable condensed games and streaming them straight to fans’ devices. It was a one-stop shop for the NFL superfan which, let’s face it, is a fair label for most people that stay up until 4am to watch Monday Night Football.

This summer, users were promised that there would be an “all new NFL Game Pass platform, exclusive to European fans and brought to you by a new service provider.”

That service provider would be deltatre – a company within the Bruin Sports portfolio - and they were very confident that their app would be an upgrade on what had gone before. Only it wasn’t.

Users have so many complaints about the app that it is hard to distil them all down. The key ones are that many of the best functions of the old app – the ability to search, the ability to download condensed games onto your iPad or iPhone – aren’t there anymore. iOS downloads were eventually added in a recent upgrade but the much-trumpeted ‘Spoiler Mode’ hides the scores only to still shade the winning team, thus offering the exact spoiler users are trying to swerve. What’s more, the timeline during the game shows when points have been scored and thus informs the viewer, who was hoping to be spoiler-free, when the next significant play is going to come.

Many fans, in the absence of all the bells and whistles, would settle for the basics.

They want to tune in on a Sunday evening and be able to stream the games - or RedZone - with no problems. But the overwhelming flood of complaints has been that live streaming, the app’s number one purpose, has been impossible. On five separate accounts tested by The Independent on different internet connections it was impossible to watch more than five minutes on Sunday nights without the app throwing up an error message and cutting off the stream. A repeat experiment with more devices during Thursday night’s game between the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers threw up the same results.

When approached by the BBC, NFL UK said the app boasts 99.3% stability. Unfortunately, that 0.7% of the time it is unstable appears to be when most fans want to tune in. Some more relevant statistics would be that 25% of the way through the season, nearly all fans canvassed by The Independent felt the product they pay £139.99 per year for is not fit for purpose.

Despite the NFL claiming this latest app is “an improved product,” this has not been the case for any of more than 50 NFL fans spoken to by The Independent nor, it would seem, from the reviews of the app which almost universally slate the product as a step backwards with less functionality.

Google Play’s app store shows NFL Game Pass Europe to have a 1.7/5* rating from - at the time of counting - 1166 reviews. But amid the sea of negative feedback is some more positive spin, and as above it was too good to be true.

“New app works great! Lots of features” said one reviewer.

“Great to see a fantastic UX on this app with super navigation,” wrote another.

“Simple flow… Easy to navigate,” chimed a third.

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“Love it. Video quality is great and streaming is smooth,” wrote someone else.

“Wonderful app!” thought another – who obviously was struggling for imagination.

And we know this because The Independent has seen an internal email from deltatre’s International Markets Managing Director, Stefano Rigat, asking employees to use almost exactly those words. The above reviews were published by employees of deltatre, using their own names.

The email, which is reproduced below in full, cites the company’s “biggest problem” as being poor ratings in app stores. Employees, and their friends and families, are told to download the app, rate it with five stars (bold is theirs) and “leave a meaningful (positive) comment. If you have nothing meaningful to say just write something like ‘Great app!!’ or ‘Works really well’.”

Employees are then told their goal is submit three reviews each, with 500 people in the company totalling 1500 five-star votes.

As things stand, despite the sore-thumb five-star reviews on Google Play, 836 of the 1166 reviews are 1*. The rest of the breakdown is in the image below.

Google Play ratings of the app paint a sorry picture

On the Apple app store the picture isn’t much rosier, with an average rating of 1.5* and venting customers, who have paid their £139.99 annual subscription, angry that the product has taken such an unexplainable and unnecessary backwards step.

When contacted about the issues with the app’s performance on Tuesday, NFL UK told The Independent there would be a statement released. That never arrived and was delayed until the next day, and then nothing again. On Thursday, The Independent was offered an interview with OverTier CEO Sam Jones, the company that operates Game Pass in Europe – overseeing deltatre – to discuss our issues. That interview never came to fruition.

The only feedback from Jones and the NFL came in an interview given to the BBC in which the app’s issues are largely put down to customer service problems.

On Friday, deltatre issued the following statement to The Independent, having been presented with evidence including the internal email, admitting to posting fake reviews:

“Deltatre apologises for the posting of positive reviews of its Game Pass Europe App.

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“We have taken swift action to remove the limited number of these reviews. We have also taken measures to improve our internal processes and increased oversight to ensure this does not happen again.

“NFL Game Pass Europe is an important service to NFL fans outside the US and we are committed to delivering the best possible service to them.”

NFL executive vice president Mark Waller said in a statement on Friday:

"We are very disappointed that Deltatre employees were asked to post their own positive reviews.This activity is inconsistent with our own NFL values and behaviors and we have clearly communicated this to Deltatre. We are pleased by the swift action they have taken and are now focused on continuing to improve the service being offered to our fans."

The posting of fake reviews would appear to breach the government’s Competition and Markets Authority guidelines and in 2016, the CMA took action against an online marketing company that was posting fake reviews for clients.

The CMA are understood to be looking into the case, and told The Independent: "Fake reviews can mislead people and damage businesses playing by the rules. That’s why the CMA is leading the way internationally to help stop misleading online practices, so far resulting in 16 enforcement cases worldwide.

"Whether it’s about providing clearer guidelines or taking enforcement action against businesses that flout the law, the CMA will continue to work with international partners to achieve better outcomes for people across the globe."

NFL fans spoken to by The Independent weren't so much angry about the reviews, they were angry that the developers were spending time trying to preserve their reputation rather than make the app they pay for actually usable. Deltatre, for their part, have encouraged users to communicate their issues to them and that compensation or refunds will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

The internal email in full

Dear all,

As I am sure you are aware, we recently launched the NFL Game Pass Europe OTT service. A super challenging project and overall good performance, however one the biggest problems we have now is poor Apps rating in the stores. This is mainly due not by the quality of the apps themselves but by lack of content/features at the launch of the platform in July, which made a lot of existing fans unhappy.

We worked very hard during the month of august to add back what the fans were expecting. We are now in a good place, but unfortunately the damage is done - we have very poor Apps ratings both in Apple and Google stores, and it is very hard to recover in a short time frame.

I am therefore asking you (and your relatives, family, friends - just spread the word!) to:

  • Download the app on Apple or Google stores (please ask for NFL Game Pass Europe - check the publisher is deltatre) in the store where you are registered (mainly Italy, UK and Germany)
  • Rate with five stars
  • Leave a meaningful (positive) comment. If you have nothing meaningful to say just write something like "Great app!!" or "Works really well".

Important: the app offers In App Purchase - you don't have to subscribe or to be a subscriber to be able to vote - you just need to download and rate!

The app rating directly impacts the name of deltatre on the market, and is also affecting Game Pass Europe overall ASO performance so it is super important for us to have your contributin. Please also spread the word - particularly in the UK and Germany, which are the two biggest market for us in Europe, it is important to climb back to the rating we deserve.

The goal for you to place at least 3 ratings each. We are 500 in the company, if we manage to have three 5-star votes (so 1500 overall) we will make an impact!

Thanks in advance for your important contribution!!


Stefano Rigat | International Markets Managing Director

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