How do I watch sports without cable?

Sports are, by far, the biggest concern that people have when looking to cut the cord.  It was our limiting factor when we were looking at getting rid of cable.  If we couldn’t watch our sports, we had to keep cable.

Good news: there are A LOT of options for watching sports. There is a learning curve but it’s still relatively easy and completely doable.  Stick with me, I’ll try to outline the easiest options first, then get more complicated towards the bottom.

Something to take into account:  my husband is a sports purest.  He will only watch sports live.  He will never watch a DVRed game.  He doesn’t even like to pause a game for a few minutes to grab snacks from the kitchen.  So DVR and Live TV pausing were not important to us.  

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The Cons

There are a few drawbacks to watching streaming sports. Even if you choose a streaming service that has a DVR and the ability to pause live TV, some streaming services state that these features aren’t available for some live sports because of licensing rights.  That isn’t to say that it’s impossible (cable companies don’t seem to follow the same restrictions…) it just isn’t 100% guaranteed.

My husband was also adamant that I let you know, it is not easy to flip between games on most cord cutting options. For example, during college football season, if you’re trying to watch a game on ESPN through your streaming service and want to jump to a network game through your antenna, there is no one button quick way to flip back and forth.  The ESPN streaming app is particularly bad in that even for multiple games within the app there is no, one click way, to flip between them.

Update:

We are currently using YouTubeTV (fall of 2018) and they have a feature that shows the last 5 channels you’ve watched.  This makes it easy to switch back and forth between games!

Moving along.

The very first thing you need to figure out is which sports you want to watch.  Since we are local to Chicago, I’ve included information for the local teams that we watch.

Sports Channels

See our guide to: How to watch the NFL without cable

  • MLB
    • Check with your favorite team, most MLB games air on either Fox regional sports network or NBC regional sports network
    • Twitter
    • ESPN
    • MLB Network airs some out of market games
    • World Series and All Star Game – FOX
    • Chicago Cubs (WGN, NBC Sports Chicago, ABC, ESPN)
    • White Sox  (WGN, NBC Sports Chicago) – ok so we don’t watch the Sox, but my dad is a Sox fan so I had to include this.
  • NHL
    • Check with your favorite team, most NHL games are televised on either Fox regional sports network or NBC regional sports network
    • Chicago Blackhawks (NBC Sports Chicago, WGN)
    • Stanley Cup Playoffs (NBC, NBCSN, USA, NHL Network)
  • NFL
    • Chicago Bears (NBC, ESPN, FOX, CBS)
    • Sunday Night football (NBC)
    • Sunday Day games (FOX and CBS)
    • Monday Night football (ESPN)
    • Thursday Night football  (FOX, NFL Network, Amazon Prime Video)
    • Superbowl (NBC)
  • NBA
    • Chicago Bulls (NBC Sports Chicago, WGN, ESPN, NBA-TV)
  • College basketball
    • Villanova (FS1, FS2, ESPN, ESPN2, CBSSN, FOX)
    • March Madness (TBS, TNT, TruTV, CBS)
  • College football (CBS Sports Network, ESPN channels, Fox sports channels, more on this below)
  • Premiere League soccer (NBC, NCBSN, CNBC, USA)
  • Track and field events – college and professional (NBCSN, NBC, ESPN)

Most major professional sports are broadcast on regional sports networks. This means that if you live outside that region, you won’t be able to see those games.  However, most of the stand alone sports streaming services (MLB TV, NHL TV etc.) will air live games if you live outside area for your team.

Some teams/sports have a lot of channels listed.  This doesn’t mean that every game is broadcast on all those channels. Each game is broadcast on one of those channels, it changes for every game.  If you want to see every single game, you will need all those channels.

If you want to watch sports without cable, you’re definitely going to want an antenna

We use an antenna. (It’s not that scary, I promise!) to watch lots of sports.  Yes, this is limited to your regional sports.  We use it primarily to watch the Cubs on WGN.  We also watch NFL, NHL and NBA games on our antenna.  It is going to be your best bet for local sports.

You will get ABC, CBS, NBC,  and FOX all completely free with an antenna.

The downside is that you can’t DVR or pause live TV  with the standard antenna set up.  There are products out there that will allow you to do this, you can look into AirTV and Tablo. But we aren’t going to go into those right now  (and we also haven’t personally reviewed them yet).

Sports on Streaming Services

Most people will want to subscribe to a streaming service to ensure that they don’t miss any games.  Watching sports using an antenna is great, but it isn’t going to get you every channel

Regional channels

Some teams air their games on regional channels.  The good news is that some streaming services carry these local channels.  Examples for us would be, NBC Sports Chicago, Comcast Sports Net, Fox Sports Chicago.

If your favorite teams play on regional channels in your area, you will have to look at which streaming services offer local channels in your area. You should be able to enter your zip code on the website of each streaming service to get a list of the local channels they offer in your area.

What streaming service do I want?

This is always the hardest part.  My advice is that the very first thing you should look at when choosing a streaming service is whether or not they have the channels you want to watch.  If you want more information on choosing a streaming service, look at our Live TV Streaming Services page.

I made this handy dandy chart to show which streaming services have the most popular sports channels in their line up.  The second chart shows the league specific channels (NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB and the Olympic Channel).

Sports 1Sports 2

Analysis

YouTube TV ($40), DIRECTV Now ($60 and up), Playstation Vue ($45 and up) and Hulu Live ($40) have all the main channels that I listed.  The cheaper packages for DIRECTV Now and Playstation Vue, don’t include all of the channels that I listed.

Fubo ($45) does not have ESPN but it has lots of specialty sports channels. If you are into specialty sports or international sports, definitely check them out.

Don’t sign up for Philo if you like sports, they don’t have any of those channels, not even the major networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC).

To compare other aspects of these streaming services (DVR, pausing live TV, number of screens etc.) check out the Live TV Streaming Services page.

If you don’t plan on signing up for one of the big streaming services (as listed above) you can still get a lot of sports from an antenna and by subscribing to stand alone channels.

Summary

Alternatives

Here’s where it can get complicated.  If you don’t want to subscribe to one of the streaming services above, you still have options to watch sports.

You can look into a stand alone streaming app to download onto your streaming device (all are supported on Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, and Apple TV, plus more)

ESPN +

This is a new,  stand alone streaming service by ESPN.  It allows 5 screens at one time.  Free 7 day trial, then plans start at $5/month.

Their website says that they will include a “selection” of live games.  So, it is not a stand alone way to watch ESPN. It’s meant to supplement ESPN in your streaming package.

Don’t rely on this if you don’t get ESPN in your streaming package.

MLB TV

  • Follow all teams – $116/season or $25/month
  • Follow 1 team – $90/season
  • Students get MLB TV for free
  • 35% discount for members of the military

This might seem like a steep price but if you look at the potential savings of switching to streaming, you could be saving over $100 per month.

It looks like they will prorate the season.  For example, it’s September 1st as I write this.  The current price for the rest of the 2018 baseball season for 1 team (Chicago Cubs, obviously) is $16.

Blackout rules apply for local teams, for home and away games.  If you are streaming a game from your local area, the game will become available 90 minutes after the game’s conclusion.  So, in my opinion, MLB TV is great if your favorite team is not from your local area.  (See above, we must watch all sports games in real time in my household)

CBS All Access

CBS All Access is for CBS only.  It does not include CBS Sports Network.

7 day free trial for CBS All Access for Amazon Prime members

NBA League Pass Digital

According to their website: NBA League Pass Digital allows you to watch live regular season games across all available digital platforms.  NBA League Pass TV allows you to watch live regular season games from all of the available NBA League Pass digital platforms, in addition to your TV. NBA League Pass TV is purchased from your Cable or Satellite provider. Blackout restrictions apply to local and national broadcast games.

Other information and pricing weren’t available at this time because the NBA season is over until the fall.

NHL.tv

  • All Access: $140
  • Single Team Pass: $110
    • You can upgrade your Single Team Pass to an All Access Pass for $30, anytime
  • Monthly pass: $25
  • Student and Military discounts available

NHL.tv offers you the option to choose between the announcers for either team for every game.  You can pause and rewind live games.  They also have an interactive timeline and you can jump back to highlights (cool! If anyone has used this, let me know if it works well!).

You can also watch up to 4 games at once.  You can choose picture in picture or a mosaic view. Each game will have several camera angles that you can choose from, including a first person ref cam at some games.

All of these features sound cool, but games are subject to blackout restrictions.  Meaning, you can’t use NHL TV to watch teams from your local area.

NFL Game Pass

Get 5% cash back from NFL Game Pass with Ebates.

Replay every game from the season with NFL Game Pass.  They have full broadcast replays, games condensed to 45 minutes and coaches film (shows all 22 players on the field).

Notice that it says replay.  This is not for live games.

7 day free trial

One payment of $99 OR

Four payments of $29.99

There is an NFL Game Pass for European viewers that airs all live regular season games.

NFL Sunday Ticket

This is only available to DIRECTV Customers OR non-DIRECTV customers who live in select multi-dwelling buildings where DIRECTV is not available.

College students – check and see if you are eligible for NFLSundayTicketTV U

NFL Sunday Ticket is available for out of market games only.

NFL Network/Fox Sports Go/NBC Sports

These apps require you to sign in with a cable provider. You can use your streaming service as a cable provider log in.  However, your package must include the channel in order to view content.

Other College Sports

If your college team isn’t local to you and isn’t televised in your area, you still have options!

SportsLive is a streaming company that partners with over 70 colleges to provide streaming coverage of over 30 sports.  It is $10/month or $100/year.  With your subscription, you get access to all their streaming content.

The other option that I’ve come across is to visit your school’s website and see if they offer streaming options.  My husband went to West Point, they offer a streaming service called Knight Vision. (West Point football games usually air on CBS Sports Network as well). Knight Vision is powered through a company called SideArm Sports.  You can check here to see the list of schools they support.

Are there other sports you want to know how to watch?  Soccer?  UFC? NASCAR? (I didn’t know NASCAR was all caps until my spelling was corrected when typing this). Please let me a comment and let me know! I’d love to hear from you.

OK so now you know, watching sports without cable is totally doable (even easy!).  So what else is holding you back? Let’s get you started with streaming!  First things first

If you want more help, check out my Services page.  I can create a personalized streaming plan for you or we can have a one on one consultation to talk through all  your options.

Lastly, get answers from me and other people in our Facebook group, Living the Stream: Help Desk

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