Watch live sports
There may be no single thing that’s tougher to replace as a cord cutter than to watch live sports. For die-hard sports fans, sports are pay TV’s last stand. They’re incredibly popular and are, in industry speak, “DVR-proof” – since fans watch sports live instead of through their DVRs, they’re prime targets for ads.
The big money changing hands in the sports world is part of why many non-sports fan cord cutters take such a low view of sports and ESPN, which they see as responsible for high cable prices. And, meanwhile, cord cutters find themselves relatively underserved in the streaming market to watch live sports.
Thankfully, this tough situation is changing fast. Cord cutting sports fans can now find ESPN in OTT skinny bundle packages from Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, and most American sports leagues have developed their own league-specific streaming packages. Throw in OTA broadcasts – which give many cord cutters access to the NFL, not to mention the championship games and series of all four major leagues – and you have some pretty good cord-free sports options. Here are a few of my best tips to watch live sports as a cord cutter.
Watch live sports – Field of streams
The most obvious way to legally get your sports fix is to invest in the streaming packages available directly from your favorite sports leagues. They vary in price and quality, but (with the notable exception of the NFL), they’re all readily available to cord cutters. MLB.TV, NBA League Pass, NHL.TV, and MLS Live are your connections to your favorite teams. A word of warning, though: if you live in your favorite team’s market, you’ll find your games blacked out. Some people use VPNs to get around this restriction, but that’s against the terms of service and can get you in trouble. You can read a bit more about each of the major league streaming services to watch live sports below.
Watch live sports – Take to the air
The four major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX) are available for free over the air in many markets. That’s great news for football fans, because those over-the-air channels will net you three or four NFL games every Sunday, including your local team’s games (except when your team is tabbed for the Monday night game on ESPN). Since the NFL is the only league without a simple, legal streaming option, an antenna is an essential accessory for any cord cutting football fan. And it’s not just the NFL – NBC has soccer, FOX has playoff baseball, CBS has college basketball and college football, and ABC has college football and NBA basketball. If you’re living near a major city, a cheap pair of rabbit ears could get you all of this coverage to watch live sports. Others may have to invest in a larger antenna. Check out this section for more details on choosing an antenna.
Watch live sports – Slim down your bundle
Back here, we talked about OTT skinny bundles like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue. These bundles are by far the best way to get ESPN, FOX Sports 1, and the other network sports channels you crave to watch live sports. Skinny bundles are pay TV services, but because they come in over the top and have fewer channels, they cost much less than cable. By the way, a skinny bundle login that proves you’re an ESPN subscriber will give you access to ESPN’s streaming app, WatchESPN.
The radio is your low-tech solution to local broadcast blackouts. You can get live game broadcasts over the air for free, and you might be surprised at just how enjoyable your favorite sports are on the radio. The rhythms of baseball and football are particularly well suited to the medium. Plus, radio commentators tend to be less annoying than their cable counterparts, if you ask us!
On top of all this, radio can give you all of the commentary and analysis that you used to get from ESPN and their competitors. ESPN radio is available just about everywhere, and some of the shows are exactly the same as their cable counterparts. All you’ll miss is a live image of a talking head. I think you’ll survive.
You can get high-tech with radio, too: Sirius XM has dedicated sports channels that you can subscribe to, MLB.TV’s radio option is just $20 (and has no blackouts!), and the NHL’s radio streams are usually free online. International soccer teams often offer free English-language radio broadcasts online, as do a lot of MLS teams.
Just like your radio, podcasts can give you all of the same information that sports news TV programs deliver. Do you really need to see Buster Olney’s face while he delivers an injury update? Of course not, which is why you shouldn’t pay for the privilege. Most ESPN shows (like Buster’s Baseball Tonight) have free podcast counterparts on iTunes, and some in-depth podcasts (like the fantasy sports podcasts) offer programming that goes beyond what the TV channel has to offer.
Watch live sports – Free streams
We sports fans are so used to hearing about what we can’t stream for free that you might be surprised to learn just how much you can. CBS and NBC, in particular, stream a lot of their sports content free of charge. CBS has made a habit of offering March Madness streams without requiring a cable login, and NBC streams several niche sporting events. Individual sports leagues and organizations (like the USGA) also sometimes stream their content online. If Wimbledon is on and you want to watch it for free, you can! Make a habit of doing an online search when you’d like to check out an event – you might find that it’s available for free on the web.
Watch live sports – Take yourself out to the ball game
Okay, so this isn’t revolutionary – but it’s still good advice! You’re saving money by skipping the cable bills, and you’re saving time by choosing your own programming (with streaming, you’ll never accidentally watch three hours of VH1’s Rock of Love “just because it’s on”). So take that money and time and go enjoy sports in person. Your superfan forefathers didn’t take in their ball games from a couch, and neither should you. Get out and cheer!