After being forced by the COVID-19 pandemic into a delayed and truncated season in 2020, Major League Baseball will return to something approaching normal in 2021. We’ll get a full 162-game regular season running from April 1 to October 3, and most teams will allow limited fan attendance at their games.
Unfortunately for those of us watching at home, it might be more difficult to catch our favorite teams in action. Over the last two years, Sling TV, FuboTV, YouTube TV, and Hulu + Live TV have each in turn dropped Sinclair-owned Fox Sports regional networks from their lineups. Only the pricey AT&T TV streaming service will offer those channels, now rebranded Bally Sports regional networks, in 2021.
Updated March 31, 2021 for the current season. Updated again on April 1, 2021 to report that Sling TV (and Dish Network) have removed NBC Regional Sports Networks from their product offerings, a decision that impacts residents of 10 states. The service also dropped MASN, a regional sports network owned by the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles. You’ll find the details in this press release on Sling TV’s website.
That presents a significant hurdle because unlike the NFL or NBA, MLB is largely a regional league, with most teams’ games aired on local cable-only networks such as Fox Sports San Diego or NBC Sports Bay Area. The Fox Sports regional networks carry regular-season games for more than a dozen teams, and those teams’ fans will now need to spend $30 to $40 more per month to watch those games than they paid for one of the aforementioned streaming services.
As in past years, nationally broadcast games will continue to be split among ESPN, FOX, FS1, TBS, and MLB Network. Of these, only Fox can be accessed over the air, but there are still ways to get the other four networks without an expensive cable subscription. Let’s look at the options.
Since broadcast baseball has largely gone the way of Sunday doubleheaders, there are few options for watching any game without a subscription of one kind or another. The Fox network, however, can still be had for free with a good indoor antenna. That will give you access to a bunch of nationally broadcast Saturday-afternoon games.
If you have Fox broadcast accounted for via an antenna, you can catch all the rest of the MLB action with an AT&T TV subscription. Not only is it the only way to stream all the Bally Sports Networks (formerly Fox Sports Regional Networks), it’s the service with the most regional sports network coverage overall, including the NBC Sports regional networks, Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, New England Sports Network, YES Network, and Spectrum SportsNet LA. It also offers ESPN, FS1, TBS and MLB Network.
To get this bounty of baseball riches, you’ll need the “Choice” package for $85 per month. That will also get you 20 hours of cloud DVR storage you can use to record games. You can upgrade to unlimited hours of recording for an additional $10 a month.
Sling TV offers ESPN, ESPN2, TBS, Fox, and Fox Sports 1, as well as NBC Sports for local-team broadcasts. If you want them all in one package, though, you’ll need to step up to the top-tier Sling Orange + Blue option (basically Sling’s two individual packages combined and offered at a discount) for $50 a month.
If that sounds just too easy, well, there is a caveat: NBC Sports regional content is available only in select markets. To see if you can receive it, check here. Note, however, that Sling TV removed NBC Regional Sports Networks and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) from its lineup on April 1, 2021 (details here).
To sweeten the offer, Sling TV typically includes device discounts with prepaid commitments. Currently, you can get a free AirTV Mini when you subscribe and prepay two months of Sling TV, or a discounted RCA HDTV Indoor Antenna and AirTV Bundle when you prepay for three months.
The once soccer-centric streaming service offers a fair amount of baseball-broadcasting channels including ESPN, Fox, FS1, and the MLB Network. It also includes the NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California networks, which is good news for Giants and A’s fans. To get them all. you’ll need the Starter package for $65 a month (there’s a 7-day free trial for new customers) and the Sports Plus channel add-on for an additional $11 a month.
Hulu offers a single, flat-fee package that includes more than 65 live and on demand channels—including the ESPN, FS1, and TBS—plus regional sports networks in select areas. You get them all, in addition to Hulu’s original content and its streaming library, for $65 a month.
Like Hulu, YouTube offers a flat-fee package of more than 85 channels for $65 per month. The baseball channel offerings are similar, but YouTube TV includes Fox and the MLB Network, where Hulu With Live TV does not.
The league’s official streaming service offers live streams of every regular season out-of-market game, with perks like multi-game viewing (up to four games at once), in-game highlights, and a free subscription to the At Bat Premium app.
Note the phrase “out-of-market,” though. MLB.TV is not a true cord-cutting resource. It was really designed as way for transplants—a Red Sox fan living in Seattle, for example—to watch their former home teams. Local broadcasts remain subject to blackout rules, so you won’t be able to watch your hometown ball club live on TV this way.
That said, MLB.TV remains a valuable option for dyed-in-the-wool seamheads to catch virtually every out-of-market game broadcast—home or away—throughout the regular season. And if you’re not particular about real-time viewing and can avoid social media and other potential spoiler sources, you can watch replays of your local team’s games on demand 90 minutes after the game’s conclusion.
A full MLB.TV subscription, which gives you access to all 30 teams’ games—minus those of your local club’s—is $25 per month or $130 for the year. There’s also a single-team option that lets you follow a non-local squad of your choice for $110 per year.
Major League Baseball is finally stepping up the plate and giving cord cutters more options to watch the Grand Old Game. We’d still like to see it offer more free streaming options of marquee matchups, as the NFL has done with Yahoo! and Twitter. But until then, you can take advantage of these cable alternatives, along with our guide to second-screen baseball apps, to make sure you catch all the diamond action.
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Michael Ansaldo is veteran consumer and small-business technology journalist. He contributes regularly to TechHive and PCWorld.