A few weeks ago I rolled out our guide to cutting the cable and while the response has been great, a number of people have asked me if it’s possible to cut the cable and still watch sports. Well I’m one of the biggest sports nuts you’ll ever meet and let me tell you that if I couldn’t watch sports then cutting the cable would NOT be an option for me so yes, it is possible to still watch sports but it really depends on which sport you’re looking for and who your favorite team is. To keep things simple I’ll work through each of the major sports and let you know what your options are.
National Football League (NFL)
Since the NFL is king (at least in the US) we may as well start here and if you’re a fan the football team in your region then you’re in luck because the NFL broadcasts almost all of its games on CBS, Fox and NBC so you’ll only need an antenna (I use this one) to pick up your team’s games most weeks, as long as you’re within range of your local stations.
The only NFL games that are tricky are Monday Night Football (ESPN) and Thursday Night Football (NFL Network). Fortunately not every team gets a Monday night game and teams only play on Thursday once a season so it would be easy to go to a sports bar or a friend’s house to watch, but if you can’t then ESPN is available streaming on Sling TV. The NFL network is not available streaming, but they did simulcast half of their games on CBS last season so you may get lucky and get your team’s game locally.
There has been some discussion recently about the NFL launching a streaming service – something it already offers for international audiences during the regular season and to everyone during the pre-season – but they just re-upped their Sunday Ticket contract with DirecTV so it’s unclear where that stands at this time. Last year DirecTV rolled out a trial of a streaming service that did not require a satellite subscription, but it was only available to a very small audience (mostly college students). Still, I have to imagine that a league that prides itself for being ahead of the curve will be rolling out a streaming service in the very near future.
Major League Baseball (MLB)
Baseball gets a lot of flack for being an old stodgy stick in the mud league but when it comes to adapting to technology MLB’s Advanced Media division is the best in the business and has been streaming games online via their MLB.tv platform since 2002 and if you’re a fan of our grand old pastime then that’s the platform to you, with a few exceptions.
Whether you’re a cord cutter or not, MLB.tv is a really great way to watch games because it allows you to watch home or away broadcasts of almost all MLB teams TV or Radio broadcasts on your TV, computer, tablet, or phone for around $130 a year (with discounts available for students). There’s just one catch (and it’s a big one for some)… the local team’s television broadcast is blacked out so if you’re a fan of the Yankees or Mets and live in New York, then you’re out of luck.
For someone like me (a Pirates fan in New York) it’s not a big deal (except when the Pirates play a NY team) and you can listen to the radio broadcast, but it’s not the same. There has been some discussion about removing the blackout altogether as soon as this season, as well as an ongoing antitrust court battle about the blackout restrictions – and there are ways (of highly questionable legality) to get around the blackouts – but as of the time I’m writing this MLB.tv is best used for watching out of market games.
I’ve been using MLB.tv for a few years now, even when I had a cable subscription, and blackout rules aside it’s a really great platform since you can use it to watch games on any device which is handy when you’re on the road and only have a phone or tablet with you, and although it’s not crystal clear on my TV (it looks MUCH better on an iPad), most of us won’t have any issue with the quality there either.
National Basketball Association (NBA)
The NBA broadcasts the majority of their games on regional cable networks, and large cable sports channels like ESPN, TNT and TBS, but like baseball the NBA has a streaming service called NBA League Pass that gives you access to out of market streaming games, but unfortunately just like MLB.tv, your local team is blacked out so Knicks fans in NY are out of luck. You can find the full details of the blackout restriction here including a blackout finder that will give you more detail based on your zip code.
If you’re a fan of an out of town NBA team, one of the things I like about League Pass is that they have two pricing options… the first lets you stream the entire league (minus local broadcasts) for $99, but if you’re really only looking for one team or a small handful of teams you can choose to watch five teams for just $69… a good deal for budget conscious sports fans.
I’ve read some complaints about the quality of the League Pass service and while I haven’t tested the service for a full season, it worked great for me during the free trial they offered at the beginning of the season and I had no issues whatsoever. That said everyone’s internet connections are different so if you’re a hoops fan I would encourage you to check out their free trial before buying.
National Hockey League (NHL)
Like Major League Baseball and the NBA, the NHL has a GameCenter Live service that allows streaming of out of market games with the same blackout restrictions as MLB/NBA have so we don’t need to rehash that scenario. If you’re not sure which teams will be blacked out for you then you can find out here with your zip code. I will say that the NHL blackout restrictions are the absolute worst in sports so don’t be surprised if multiple teams are unavailable in your area – I’m blacked out of FOUR in my local area, despite not being able to watch most teams even with a cable subscription.
Also unfortunately the GameCenter Live service does not allow a free trial, and not being much of a hockey fan I wasn’t able to test out their service without paying for a full season – not gonna happen – but I have heard that it’s not the best. When I contacted the NHL about it they told me that there is a money back guarantee for the service if I wasn’t satisfied, so if you’d like to give it a shot make note of that if you’re not happy after you sign up.
If you’re just a casual hockey fan you should also note that the NHL does broadcast a handful of weekend games nationally on NBC affiliates so you’d just need a digital antenna to watch those, but if you’re looking for a specific team it might be hit and miss.
Professional Golfers Association (PGA)
Golf is one of the better sports to watch for cable cutters. Most tournaments last three or four days and start on a Thursday or a Friday, and while the first two days of the tournament are usually on a cable network like the Golf Channel, ESPN or TNT, the weekend games are usually carried by a local broadcast affiliate like NBC, CBS or FOX so most tournaments are on for free when most of us are around to watch them. (ESPN.com has a nice TV schedule listing here) If you don’t mind missing the first couple of days all you’ll need is a digital antenna and a TV station within range and you should be good to go.
Like the PGA, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup race coverage jumps all over the dial, with some races broadcast on cable networks like Fox Sports 1 and the NBC Sports Network, but it also broadcasts some races on your local FOX and NBC stations so if you don’t mind missing about half of the series’ races then you’re in good shape provided you have an antenna to pick up the games. Somewhat surprisingly NASCAR does not offer a streaming service for it’s viewers but I have to imagine that one is in the works with all of the other major sports networks following Major League Baseball’s lead.
General Sports Television
If you’re just looking for sports highlights and the occasional game from a sports network like ESPN then you can get that as part of the $20 a month package through Sling TV’s streaming service (as long as you own a Roku or Amazon Fire TV box). Other networks like Fox Sports 1 or NBC Sports Network (as well as ESPN’s Watch ESPN app) do have apps on Roku but they are only available with a verified cable subscription.