How to Watch Sports Without Cable TV

by Aaron Crowe on 9 July 2012 14 comments
Photo: The D34n

One of the first things I discovered when cutting the cable TV cord — and something I planned for a little, but not enough — was how to watch live sports without having a cable bill to pay. (See also: Cutting the Cable Cord Has More Than Financial Benefits)

Cutting the cable cord will save you money, but if you're a sports fan, you'll likely spend a month or two of savings on a season package for your favorite sport. For me, it was baseball, but without being able to follow the local teams.

The MLB.TV season package that I bought for $100 before the baseball season started worked well on our Roku to stream games to the television, but games of our local teams were blacked out. They were available for streaming after the game, but I'm not excited about having to avoid the final score before watching a game that is long over. Luckily, I'm also a fan of a team that's far from where I live, so I watch those games live and get my baseball fix that way.

Unless you're going to a friend's house or a bar to watch a game live, you'll likely run into the score; a friend may blab it on Facebook, or you'll see it on your smartphone, hear it on the radio, or see it somewhere. Facebook and Twitter are especially important to avoid if you don't want to know the score before you watch a delayed game. When Matt Cain pitched a perfect game for the San Francisco Giants this year, it was all over the Internet and knowing the outcome took away the excitement of watching the game on MLB.TV after it was over.

I'm not about to spend a few hundred dollars on a big outdoor antenna to get free over-the-air broadcasts of games by the local baseball teams, so I'm out of luck if I want to watch games live as they happen. In my area, at least, an indoor antenna didn't work well; the site AntennaWeb can help you find what signals are available near you. For now, I either listen to local games on the radio or follow them pitch by pitch online.

While I only have personal experience with with Major League Baseball, several other sports offer non-cable packages, including:

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW
  • NFL: NFL Game Rewind is $40 for a season to replay NFL games, or NFL Sunday Ticket lets you watch live games for $200 all season on a variety of devices.
     
  • NBA: NBA League Pass lets you watch games online, on a mobile device, or on TV on a streaming device such as a Roku for $179 a year, with or without a lockout.
     
  • NHL: NHL GameCenter Live is available for about $80 a year to watch hockey on everything from a TV to an iPad or phone.
     
  • NASCAR: If you'd like to watch old NASCAR races, iTunes sells some of the classic races for $2 each.

The 2012 NCAA March Madness men's basketball games cost only $4 for all 67 games of the tournament on computers, iPads, and other mobile devices, according to the Kick Out Cable website. The games were free in previous years, though if it again costs only $4 for the entire tournament, it beats paying a monthly cable bill.

With all of these options, one of the most important things to have without cable is a fast Internet connection. Without it, watching anything will be difficult.

With the Olympics about to start, the summer looks like a bad time to stop paying for TV. NBC is allowing people to watch Olympic events live online, including on a smartphone or tablet, for free — if they have a paid cable/satellite package that includes CNBC and MSNBC. It's simple enough to sign up for: Choose your TV provider, sign in with your username and password, then watch every event live. It's quite an enticement for paying for cable TV through mid-August.

It's no fun turning around after getting rid of cable TV and giving your money to someone else so you can watch sports, but you'll still save more money by watching exactly what you're paying for instead of paying for a potpourri of sports programming you rarely watch. I'm not an NFL fan, but I'll gladly pay for a season of baseball.

And chances are that if you've cut the cable cord, you're going to cut other related costs to save money and can use some of that extra savings to pay for a sports package or two. A survey by TechBargains.com found that people who have disconnected their home telephone service are twice as likely to also cut the cable cord. One in three who discontinued cable or satellite services said they wouldn't return regardless of the price.

So if you're looking for incentive to cut cable and buy a season of your favorite sport, it's reassuring to know that plenty of people have done the same thing and aren't returning to cable or satellite service.

And if that doesn't work, go to your local sports bar whenever a big game is on. Just be prepared to spend some money on other forms of entertainment while you're there.

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Guest's picture
Roo

You can do what I did with MLB.tv and get the "Platinum Premium" package. Just get a VPN connection and move around to an out of market area so you can watch whatever game you choose. The easiest is to get a router that supports this but using your computer for the games and the TV as the display seems to work well too.

Aaron Crowe's picture

ROO:
How do you move to an out of market area? Do you mean physically move out of market to watch whatever games you want. MLB.TV officials told me that they know where I am through my ISP address, so I'm unclear on how to remove that and get out of market so I can watch the local teams.

Guest's picture
Razorbacks92

Unfortunately, my experience the past year of cutting cable has not been positive. I am a sports fanatic, and I don't own and ipad and my computer is getting old and slow. As a result, streaming games on espn3 is frustrating and there was no point in paying for a service. As a result, we went out to watch most games, and typically we spent as much going out each month to watch games as we would have if we had just kept cable in the first place. We are about to get cable or satellite again before football season. Computer upgrades are out of the question until we finish getting out of debt. If it weren't for sports, I could happily live forever without cable or satellite!

Guest's picture
Adam

Great Article! Cutting tv can be tough, but when I was in college, I never had a tv, yet still managed to watch all the major games, events, spectacles, while being more social and outgoing. I am having trouble cutting the cable, but I know its the right move for a number of reasons.

Guest's picture
Guest

ESPN online is great; I watched the entire Wimbledon tournament online this year. The Olympics are also going to be online this year.

Guest's picture
Matt

sorry, NFL Sunday Ticket's online options are not available without a DirecTV subscription AND a regular Sunday Ticket subscription. I tried "cutting the cord". it sucks. especially with a newborn baby... I watch more tv than ever now sadly. the satellite and cable providers have a lockdown on everything and they're too scared to make most content available online (unless you're willing to "steal" it...).

Guest's picture
Sam

Matt, I just made a post on your topic, should update on this site shortly. I do not have Direct TV and have used a VPN and my laptop/TV to watch games through NFL.com the last two seasons. I've had access to all the games. I did pay for the package but it was cheaper (by a lot) than having a Direct TV or cable bill each month. Contact me on twitter @sameritech if you have questions.

Guest's picture
Kay

Any similar top subscriptions for European sports?

Guest's picture
Sam

I also use a VPN. I connect to the NFL network to watch any game I want. I do have to pay for the NFL package at NFL.com but it allows me to watch games from any market and I don't need Direct TV/cable. Here's how it works.

You need to get a VPN service. Good thing to have regardless to prevent your ISP or anyone for that matter snooping on your internet activity. You use a VPN to connect to a server in another country. For example Canada, UK, or Mexico. Then navigate to the sports website and purchase the package you want. NFL.com, MLB.com, etc will think the purchase is coming from that country, rather than the US. This is what allows you to purchase the package in the first place. If your connection looks like it's coming from inside the US, for the NFL anyway, they won't let you purchase the packages due to Direct TV's exclusive contract. Once you have the package, when you login later to watch your games, just ensure you have your VPN connected to another country. Once your connected, you can usually disconnect your VPN link and the video plays just fine. I learned last year that you only need the VPN to connect to the service. Once you're in, it doesn't register where the signal is going, just that the original connection came from outside the country. In year 1, my connection was pretty crappy because I thought I had to have the VPN connected continuously. This reduced the picture quality when it's routed outside the country or long distances. Last season, for the heck of it I disconnected the VPN after I logged in and was happy to see the games came in crystal clear without the VPN.

I used the NFL package like that the last two years. I also connect my laptop to my TV to watch the games via the TV instead of the computer. It's really easy but you'll have to consider the cost of the VPN to what the sports package costs when deciding if it's right for you. A good VPN service costs $50 - $75/year and I use it for all my internet activity, not just for sports. So I'm getting my money's worth on that. Once again, good thing to have for privacy reasons. Since I also cut the cable cord, the money I'm saving far outweighs a Direct TV/cable subscription or the cost of a VPN and the NFL Network package.

Follow me on twitter @sameritech

Guest's picture
Andrew

There's an error in the article. It mentions that NFL Ticket is $200, which is true, but that doesn't allow you view the content on a computer or tablet. For that feature you need to subscribe to NFL Ticket Max which is $295.

Guest's picture

I'm not positive, but aren't a lot of the games you want to watch found online? I think ESPN can stream a lot of the games you'd want to see, and if you don't want to watch it on your lap top, a connecting cord to your television will probably still cost less than an entire sports package.

Guest's picture
Guest

Here's a way to watch sports online without cable (and its monthly bills!) - outlined step by step at www.watchtheolympicsonline.org

Guest's picture
Guest

NBA league pass cannot be used to watch games that are televised on (A) your local channel or (B) national channels. So it is only useful or watching one-off regular season games which is pretty much useless.

Guest's picture
Lisa

Sadly, NHL Game Center is also only available for out of market games and games that are not nationally televised. I'm dying to get rid of cable, but we watch hockey every day and normally on the MSG family of networks. Haven't figured out how to get those channels otherwise. I'd have ditched TV for Netflix and Hulu Plus a long time ago.