Cable has been losing ground to cord cutting solutions for years now, thanks in part to streaming video on demand (SVOD) services like Netflix and Hulu. With movies and TV shows so readily available to stream, it has been tough for traditional pay TV companies to make the case for live TV. But there is at least one area where live TV still dominates: sports. And that has left many cord cutters or would-be cord cutters asking how to watch sports without cable.
In some ways, sports are cable’s best argument. They’re best watched live, which means they’re “DVR-proof” – a boon to cable network’s advertising revenue – and similarly immune to services with SVOD-type models like Netflix’s. But the “get cable because of sports” argument is fading fast as more people figure out how to watch sports without cable. For that, we can thank a few different movements, including the fast-expanding skinny bundle arms race, the resurgence of free over-the-air TV, and the direct-to-consumer streaming services put out by sports leagues themselves. Watching sports without cable is easier than ever before, but there are a lot of options, so let us walk you through it! This is our complete guide on how to watch sports without cable.
How to watch sports online and over the air without cable
This list includes a few different types of services. The list starts with skinny bundles, which means I should probably explain what those are. No single innovation has been bigger for cord cutting sports fans than the rise of the skinny bundle. A couple of years ago, when we asked how to watch ESPN without cable, the answer was pretty short: you can’t. Now, viewers have tons of answers to this question and to the question of how to watch sports without cable. We have skinny bundles to thank for that. Skinny bundles offer slimmed-down packages of cable networks. They stream over the internet like Netflix (these are over-the-top, or “OTT” services), and they cost a lot less than traditional cable packages.
After skinny bundles we’ll cover over-the-air TV and then, finally, league streaming packages. Those league streaming packages are another genre of live OTT service. Unlike skinny bundles, they’re event-focused rather than channel focused: the streams are live during the games, and that’s it. The leagues will generally offer you every game that you can’t get through your local cable package. That means home games for your local team are usually blacked out, as are national broadcasts (MLS Live is the only big exception here, at least for now).
Got all that? Alright, let’s meet the contestants.
DIRECTV NOW is a pretty typical skinny bundle. It offers ESPN, ESPN2, and FS1 in the cheapest of its multiple package options (Live a Little, $35/month), but FS2 and some other sports favorites are banished to higher price tiers. Those willing to pay more will find plenty of super-specific sports channels, including Longhorn Network, Big Ten Network, and more. Check out our full review of DIRECTV NOW here.
fuboTV has a sports-centric focus, so it’s a no-brainer here. fuboTV started out as a soccer-only streaming service, so soccer is still its strongest suit, but other sports are also well-represented here, and fuboTV’s interface surfaces them. Unfortunately, there’s one rather glaring omission: ESPN is missing from the service. Still, this is a skinny bundle marketed squarely at sports fans, and it’s a great pick for soccer fans. Check out our full review of fuboTV here.
Hulu is best known for its on-demand service, which competes with Netflix. But it also has a newer service called Hulu with Live TV, which is a skinny bundle. The single package on offer costs $39.99/month and includes ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPNU, FS1, FS2, Golf Channel, and NBCSN, among other sports channels. You can read our review of Hulu with Live TV here.
Despite the name, PlayStation Vue is available on many devices other than Sony’s PlayStation. It offers ESPN, ESPN2, FS1, FS2, and NBCSN in its smallest package (Access, $39.99/month) and offers other sports channels – including regional sports networks, MLB Network, NBA TV, ESPN U, SEC Network, Big Ten, and others – at higher price points. Read our review of PlayStation Vue here.
Sling TV is arguably the best option for cost-conscious sports fans. Sling TV offers major networks in some areas, and each of ESPN, ESPN2, FS1, FS2, and NBCSN are in at least one of Sling TV’s base packages ($20 and $25/month). On top of that, Sling TV is now offering NBC regional sports networks in some areas, and has long offered Fox regional sports networks in others. Sling TV is also noteworthy for its à la carte business model, which starts you off with a base package and then invites you a built a more customized bundle with add-on packages. The Sports Extra add-on is all sports channels, so you won’t be paying for anything you don’t watch.
We’ve written before on the benefits of free over-the-air TV, which allows viewers in many areas to get the major networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) for free. Free over-the-air TV is especially great for NFL fans, since the NFL airs games primarily on CBS, Fox, and NBC, and the Super Bowl is always on one of those three channels. Fans of college basketball, college football, the NBA, the NHL, MLB, and soccer will find at least some games to watch as well, particularly big games and championship matches.
MLB.TV was the first of these services to emerge, and it remains the gold standard for league streaming services. The company behind it – MLB Advanced Media – is now one of the most reputable streaming companies on the planet, and the MLB.TV service is nearly flawless. Check out our review of MLB.TV here.
Like three of the four major North American sports leagues, MLS has its own streaming serve. It’s a little less robust than the big boys’ offerings, and you’ll usually get just one stream of each game, but MLS Live does benefit from better blackout rules than its competitors. Depending on which team you follow, you may be able to stream games locally. Read our full review of MLS Live here.
NBA League Pass is a little pricey (NBA TV rights are not cheap, so the league isn’t about to give you any direct-to-consumer bargains), but it’s a worthwhile investment for basketball fans. We haven’t reviewed it here yet, but it seems to be keeping fans happy following a rough patch a few years ago.
NHL.TV, formerly known as NHL GameCenter LIVE (why did they ever get rid of such a simple and elegant brand name?), is the NHL’s take on the league streaming service. It has a nice (if somewhat incomplete) classic game archive and works pretty much exactly how you’d expect it to. You can read our review of the service here (note that our review was written back in the glory days of the “NHL GameCenter LIVE” branding).
I’m not here to debate whether or not pro wrestling is a sport (it is, though) – I’m just here to tell you that if you love the WWE, you might want to invest in their OTT service. WWE Network has replaced traditional pay-per-view as the WWE’s broadcast method of choice. Oh, and there’s a free trial, too.
Can I watch sports on Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, or Chromecast?
You can indeed! The major streaming boxes have apps (or “channels”) for just about all of the services listed above. Some of the newer skinny bundles are still ramping up platform support, but they each have at least a few of the major streaming platforms ready to go, as well as apps for Android and iOS. The older skinny bundles (like Sling TV) have you covered for every major streaming device. All in all, you should have plenty of options for skinny bundles and league streaming services no matter which major platform you use.
Other guides on how to watch sports without cable
We’ve covered sports fandom in broad strokes above, but let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. What if you have a specific channel in mind? What about a specific sport? We’ve written guides for all sorts of super-specific sports situations here at Cordcutting.com, so let’s take a look as some of the ones you may want to read next.
- How to watch ESPN without cable
- How to watch FS1 without cable
- How to watch NBC Sports without cable
- How to watch football without cable
- How to watch baseball without cable
- How to watch NBA basketball without cable
- How to watch hockey without cable
- How to watch college football without cable
- How to watch college basketball without cable
- How to watch soccer without cable (we also have a separate guide for Premier League die-hards)
- How to watch tennis without cable
- How to watch cricket without cable
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