How cord-cutters can watch March Madness without paying for cable TV

Our cord-cutter's guide will show you how you can watch every game in the tournament for the least amount of cash.

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For millions of sports fans, brackets—not baseball—herald the arrival of spring. With its big upsets, Cinderella stories, and weird mascots, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship has transcended sports to become a cultural event. 

But it’s a bittersweet time for cord-cutters. If the logistics of following more than 60 teams through a month-long tournament aren’t arduous enough, nearly 70 percent of games are televised on cable channels. The good news is that this year the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, the Final Four, and the National Championship will air on CBS. The only thing you’ll need is an antenna to catch that action.

Updated March 11, 2020 to report that the NCAA has announced that due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, live attendance at the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will be limited to the players themselves along with “essential staff and limited family.” Updated March 12, 2020 to report that the NCAA has now cancelled the winter and spring championships.

The 68 games that make up the tournament will be broadcast across four networks: CBS, TBS, TNT, and truTV. Based on the schedule at press time, we’ve put together a strategy that will allow you to watch every minute of March Madness live without a cable subscription. The options below will take you all the way through to the title game on April 6.

Catch CBS games over the air or over the top

CBS’s March Madness coverage starts on March 19 with the First Round. The easiest—and only free—way to watch all the CBS action is with a good antenna. If you’re purchasing one for the first time, remember to first check to see which stations you can receive in your area, and which antenna type you’ll need to pull in your CBS affiliate. Given the challenging logistics of catching so many games, you might also want to invest in an over-the-air DVR to time-shift some of your viewing.

tv antenna television Zedcor/Getty Images

You can catch most of the March Madness action with an over-the-air TV antenna (provided you’re in range of a broadcast TV transmission tower).

The easiest—and only free—way to watch all the CBS action is with a good antenna. If you’re purchasing one for the first time, remember to first check to see which stations you can receive in your area, and which antenna type you’ll need to pull in your CBS affiliate. Given the challenging logistics of catching so many games, you might also want to invest in an over-the-air DVR to time-shift some of your viewing.

If you can’t access CBS over the air, consider subscribing to CBS All Access. The app will give you live streaming access to every game broadcast on the network. The games, however, are only available in markets where CBS All Access—which also features on-demand programming—offers live streaming. That’s currently more than150 markets across the U.S., so chances are good you’re in one.

A subscription with limited commercials costs $5.99 per month, or you can go ad-free for $9.99 per month (the service offers a one-week free trial). The CBS All Access app is available for Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, PS4, Xbox, Windows 10, iOS, and Android.

Sling is the thing for Turner telecasts

As in previous years, the bulk of the tournament will be aired on three Turner Sports networks—TBS, TNT, and TruTV—with most of the action on the flagship station. TruTV will host all the First Four contests, and then split coverage with the other three networks throughout the first and second rounds. TBS will then share coverage with CBS of the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight contests.

sling logo Sling TV

Sling TV continues to dangle attractive incentives in front of new subscribers.

The Sling Blue package will give you all three of those channels—along with more than 40 other popular networks—for a limited-time offer of $30 per month ($20 for the first month). (If you’re already a Sling Orange customer, you currently get TNT and TBS and can purchase the Comedy Extra add-on for an additional $5 per month to get TruTV.) A Sling TV subscription also comes with a seven-day free trial; that’s important because March Madness actually runs through the first week of April. If you time your subscription right, you could avoid paying for a second month of Sling to catch the Final Four and the championship game.

You can watch Sling TV on your iOS or Android device or on your big screen with a Chromecast, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV. Currently, the service is offering a free Amazon Fire TV Stick with a two-month prepaid commitment.

You’ll still need a way to access the games broadcast on CBS, so Sling is also offering discounts on an RCA HDTV Indoor Antenna and AirTV Bundle when you prepay for three months.

AT&T TV Now steps onto the court

AT&T’s streaming service, formerly known as DirecTV Now, offers many of the same channels as SlingTV. Its basic Plus package will give you more than 45 channels—including TBS, TNT, and TruTV—for $65 per month. This lineup also includes ESPN and ESPN2, both of which will certainly have highlights and other coverage of the tournament. Use their channel lookup tool to see if you can get a live CBS feed in your area as well. As with Sling TV, you get the first seven days free.

You can stream AT&T TV Now to your computer, iOS or Android devices, Apple TV, Android Fire TV, and Chromecast. It’s worth noting that AT&T Now is a separate and distinct service from AT&T TV. The latter is a cable-like service that includes a set-top box while the former requires you to provide your own hardware but doesn’t require a long-term contract.

Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV

Unlike its competitors,  Hulu and YouTube each offer a single, flat-fee package that includes the four channels you need to catch all of March Madness. They’re priced comparably—$50 per month for YouTube TV and $55 per month for Hulu with Live TV—but you’ll need to check with each service to see which offers the required live channel streams in your area before making your decision. As with many of the services, there’s a seven-day free trial available.

FuboTV: The streaming service for sports fans

FuboTV offers many of the same live TV channels the other major streaming services provide, but it places special emphasis on sports coverage. Curiously, however, it doesn’t carry ESPN. But for the purposes of March Madness, a $55-per-month subscription will deliver all the Turner networks (including TBS, TNT, and TruTV), plus local CBS stations (for 90 percent of U.S. households, that is).

FuboTV FuboTV

FuboTV will carry some of the games leading up to March Madness in 4K resolution.

The NCAA March Madness Live app

march madness app 2019 NCAA Digital

The NCAA’s own March Madness 2019 app offers lots of specialized content that revolves around the championship series.

The NCAA is once again offering all 67 games through the NCAA March Madness Live app. In addition to the game streams, the app offers live scores and stats, an interactive bracket, classic March Madness videos, game notifications, and curated social content.

As attractive as this option sounds for cord-cutters, the claim that you can watch the entire tournament with NCAA March Madness Live is a little misleading. Only the CBS broadcasts are available without a cable subscription, and then only on your computer and iOS or Android mobile device. To view CBS’s games on your TV, or any of the Turner network broadcasts on any device, you need a cable subscription login. Still, it might be worth downloading if you don’t want to miss any of the CBS matchups while you’re away from a TV.

Time for tip off

The options for streaming live sports have never been better, so don’t let cutting the cord make you miss the NCAA champs cutting the net. Grab a beer and your bracket and take advantage of these cable alternatives for courtside seats for one the greatest sporting events of the year.

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