By Jared Newman
For a lot of people, live sports is the main reason to hang onto an expensive pay TV package. If you want to watch your favorite team play in real time, you probably can’t do it without access to broadcast, regional, and national sports channels, all of which remain tied to big TV bundles.
The good news is that you no longer need cable or satellite TV service to access these channels. With live TV streaming services such as YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, and FuboTV, you might be able to get the same coverage online at a fraction of the cost. And with new streaming services such as ESPN+ and DAZN, sports superfans can get more coverage than cable ever had.
Still, not all live TV streaming services have exactly the same channels or offer the same experience. Below, I’ll break down your best streaming options, sport-by-sport.
Your ability to watch live sports without cable will largely depend on where you are. Some markets may not offer a full array of local broadcast channels on every streaming service, and some regional sports channels haven’t yet made the jump to streaming at all. (Looking at you, Spectrum SportsNet.) For live TV streaming services such as YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, Fubo TV, AT&T TV Now, and Sling TV, I strongly suggest entering your zip code into their respective websites for a list of local and regional channel coverage.
For $50 per month, YouTube TV provides all four major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox) in nearly every market; regional sports coverage from Fox Sports and NBCSN (plus NESN in Boston and SNY in New York); national coverage from ESPN, TBS, TNT, NBC Sports, and CBS Sports Network; and several league-specific networks including NBA TV and MLB Network. You can even add Fox Soccer Plus for $15 per month.
YouTube TV doesn’t have every sports channel you might get through cable (NFL Network and NFL Redzone are major omissions). Still, it’s the cheapest option for the most popular sports coverage on TV, its video quality is excellent, and it works on every major streaming device with the recent arrival of Fire TV support.
For football coverage in general, we still give YouTube TV the nod for the same reasons as above: Great video quality, broad local and national sports channel coverage, and a lower price than its closest competitors. It does not offer NFL Redzone, but you can subscribe to Redzone as a standalone service if you don’t mind watching it on your phone only.
You have a couple options if you must have Redzone on your TV:
For baseball coverage, you’ll most likely need a package that includes your nearest regional sports channel, plus TBS, ESPN, FS1, Fox, and possibly the MLB Network for playoffs and nationally televised games. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, YouTube TV is the only service that meets all those criteria, though Hulu with Live TV will also suffice if you can live without whatever random playoff game winds up on the MLB Network.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a different area than your favorite team, you can avoid the TV bundle entirely and subscribe to MLB.TV for live, out-of-market game streams. For the 2019 season, MLB charged $92 for single-team coverage and $119 for all out-of-market games, but don’t be surprised if those prices increase slightly in 2020. Also, keep in mind that you’ll experience blackouts if a game is nationally televised or if your favorite team is playing against your local team, and you’ll still need to pick up a TV bundle to watch the playoffs.
Watching basketball without cable will likely require a combination of your regional sports network, TNT, ESPN, ABC, and NBA TV. In most cases, the only service that checks all of those boxes is YouTube TV.
New York area residents, however, should look to either AT&T TV Now ($75 per month for the “Max” package) or FuboTV ($55 per month), as these are the only services that include MSG for Knicks coverage. While AT&T’s service includes ABC and ESPN, FuboTV does not, though it does offer NBA TV at no extra charge. (It may be easier to just become a Nets fan.)
For out-of-market games, NBA League Pass costs $120 per season for a single team or $200 per season for all teams.
To watch your local hockey team without cable, you’ll need access to regional sports networks, plus a sprinkling of coverage from NBC and NBC Sports. Once again, YouTube TV ($50 per month) will be the cheapest option, followed by FuboTV and Hulu with Live TV (both $55 per month). For New York and New Jersey hockey fans, FuboTV gets the edge, as it’s the cheapest option that includes MSG and MSG+.
NHL.TV is also available for out-of-market games, with a price of $116 per season for single-team coverage and $145 per season for all teams. As with other league-specific streaming services, any games that are playing in your area or on national television will be blacked out.
Breaking down the specifics of soccer coverage could fill an entire article on its own, thanks to the sheer number of leagues involved. (Here’s a good example.) But here’s my best attempt at a quick rundown:
For complete UFC Fight Night coverage, you’ll need a combination of the ESPN cable channel (which will carry 10 main cards per year) and ESPN+ (which will stream the remaining 20 cards). ESPN is available via most live TV streaming services, with Sling TV Orange being the cheapest at $25 per month.
ESPN+, meanwhile, costs $5 per month, but major UFC fights such as the forthcoming UFC 245 are pay-per-view options that will cost extra.
The fractured nature of boxing means there isn’t any single way to access all of the best matches. Instead, you’ll need to bounce around between Showtime ($11 per month), ESPN+ ($5 per month), and DAZN ($20 per month or $100 per year). Some events will also appear on ESPN proper, so you’ll need a live TV streaming service such as Sling TV Orange or YouTube TV to watch those, and some events will be pay-per-view through Showtime or Fox Sports.
Don’t care about major sporting events, but still enjoy the thrill of competition? Here are some other sports streaming options to consider:
While the number of sports streaming services on offer can seem overwhelming, keep in mind that you don’t have to subscribe to them all at the same time. With streaming, you can easily add and drop services as needed, and you can even immediately cancel a service after signing up to avoid being automatically billed after your first month. This trick is especially useful if you only want to drop into a sport for playoff coverage or watch one big fight.
Watching live sports is still an expensive hobby, even in the streaming age, but with proper planning, you can maximize how much you watch while minimizing how much you spend.
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This story, “A cord-cutters guide to watching sports without cable TV” was originally published by
Jared Newman covers personal technology from his remote Cincinnati outpost. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for help with ditching cable or satellite TV.
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