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Earlier this week, D.C. United found itself in a position it hoped it would never have to be in again: apologizing to its fans for a mishap with its new broadcast partner FloSports.
This time, the streaming service had cut out during the end of a tie game at New England on Saturday night. As the match entered its crucial phase, fans all over the region got an error message over a glaring red screen. The game would not return.
“On behalf of everyone at D.C. United, we want to apologize deeply to the fans affected by the technical difficulties on Saturday,” a statement from United read. “Being able to watch your team for the entirety of the match is of utmost importance to our supporters which is why this incident is completely unacceptable.”
Intermittent problems have persisted for many viewers even before last weekend’s mishap put FloSports back in the unwanted spotlight. In the service’s first broadcast in March, viewers got an error message throughout much of the first half. This resulted in the first apology from D.C. United to its fans, and an offer of a free subscription for April to try and win back a skeptical audience.
More recently, issues with FloSports have caused significant problems at the team’s many official bar partners around the area. The main problem has been getting the game to stream properly on multiple televisions.
“The stream hasn’t been good. Flo lacks the technology to properly televise the game in bars,” says Jay Igiel, one of the leaders of D.C. United supporters’ group La Barra Brava.
That faulty technology was part of what led to a messy divorce between the Barra and its former home bar, Finn McCool’s.
Due to low turnouts for watch parties, partially caused by unreliable streams, the Barracks Row establishment pulled the plug on their relationship with the Barra last month.
“FloSports had a lot to do with it,” says Tom Johnson, managing partner of Hill Restaurant Group, which owns Finn McCool’s. “Was it everything? I don’t think it was everything but I think it definitely had a very negative impact on the whole process.”
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The Barra quickly found a new home bar, but problems with FloSports have not been limited to just one or two establishments.
“We have tried multiple times with multiple devices to try and get FloSports set up but to no avail,” an employee at another D.C. United partner bar tells City Paper.
Johnson says that he has heard of several other bars that have had problems streaming games on FloSports, including Willie’s and Hawk & Dove, which are under the same ownership as Finn McCool’s.
Starting this season, 21 of the team’s 34 regular-season matches are only available through a subscription to the FloFC service provided by FloSports, which costs $108 per year for those who aren’t season ticket holders.
Tim Sullivan, the chief product officer for FloSports, says the company recommends two solutions to bars: use an HDMI splitter or subscribe, for a cost, to a third-party service that takes a stream and changes it into what seems more like a linear broadcast.
“We’re super aware of the issue,” Sullivan tells City Paper, before admitting that without some extra work or extra money, most bars will struggle to get a flawless stream on multiple TVs. “In terms of trying to figure out a way to stream to 16 different devices on a single internet connection, there’s not much that we can do there. It will be an evolution as more and more sports move off of linear and onto streaming services.”
Though Sullivan says FloSports has been able to find a solution that works for “most bars” they’ve worked with, there are clearly still some unsatisfied customers.
“FloSports was a complete disaster for D.C. United,” Johnson says. “It was a whole debacle from the beginning, they just brought us a bag of stuff and said, ‘Hey you guys figure it out’, so FloSports didn’t really support us at all.
Sullivan says that FloSports “reached out to basically every bar in the DC area” to provide a special customer support email, and they’ve responded to all complaints they received.
But Igiel agrees that FloSports has not been adequately responsive to the problems with its technology, though D.C. United at least tried to clean up the mess.
“They haven’t been very good with customer service,” Igiel says of FloSports. “D.C. United tried doing everything they could. They actually sent an intern out to go buy the Roku sticks and delivered them to the bar and showed them how to set them up.”
Still, that didn’t solve the problem. Finally, Igiel says, the bar decided it had enough.
“They had problems with the TVs and the Rokus and then one of the managers there said, “Fuck this, I’m done with Flo, I’m never dealing with it again.’”