A cord-cutters guide to watching sports without cable TV
How to catch your favorite teams, games, and other sporting events without paying through the nose for a cable or satellite TV subscription.
By Roy Delgado
Rob Schultz / IDG
Sports fans felt left out of the early days of cutting the cord. In the move from big cable TV bundles into streaming services, many sports fans stuck with traditional pay-TV services because their favorite teams or sports would be on a channel that wasn’t available online, and streaming services had only a rare game or niche sports available.
Today, sports fans can easily get in the game because streaming live sports has become a big focus for players like YouTube TV, AT&T TV, and other services. You’ll find all the channels you need to see live sports, all without a contract or the high prices of the big bundles. Live sports have become a selling point for the new era of network streaming services including Paramount+, Peacock Premium, and Hulu. Add to that streaming services like ESPN+ and DAZN that specialize in offering big-league events for little-league prices.
The challenge now is finding the right services to see the sports you want to watch. Here are the best streaming services for watching your favorite sports without cable TV.
Best services for streaming sports in general
Streaming services are all about variety and choice, and that certainly holds true for streaming sports. Picking the best overall service for streaming sports comes down to what kind of experience you want. Do you want a streaming service that offers the traditional sports channels, or do you want a dedicated sports streaming service designed for cord-cutters who want to keep watching some games?
YouTube TV is the best live-TV streaming service for sports on the traditional channels. For $65 a month, YouTube TV has nearly every channel with sports programming, including the four major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC), along with national networks like ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, and TBS. YouTube TV also has added many league networks, including NFL Network, MLB Network, NBA TV; plus, college networks for the ACC, Big Ten and SEC.
YouTube TV also offers a Sports Plus add-on package for $11 a month that has the NFL RedZone channel, along with Fox College Sports, Fox Soccer, Stadium and a few other sports networks. YouTube TV has lots of other great features for sports fans, including a great DVR and a high-quality stream with most channels delivered at 60 frames per second. It’s the most complete way to watch sports online without cable TV.
ESPN+ is the best dedicated sports streaming service, and it delivers a ton of value for a low cost. ESPN+ costs $6 a month, or $60 a year, to access live coverage of many of the biggest games all year long. The service now includes NFL, MLB, and NHL along with many of the biggest soccer leagues in the U.S. and internationally. ESPN+ also includes UFC, boxing, PGA Tour golf and games from a large collection of college sports conferences.
ESPN+ doesn’t have every game or show that you would find on the ESPN channels, but they’ve been adding more of those games to the service each time they renew their contracts. Still, for the price of one month of a live-TV streaming service, a full year of ESPN+ brings a great value to fans who just want some sports on TV any night they choose. You can also get ESPN+ as a package deal that also includes Disney+ and the ad-supported version of Hulu for $14 per month.
Best for streaming local sports: AT&T TV
The biggest difference between watching sports on cable TV and watching on a streaming service is seeing your local sports teams. Blackout rules still apply to sports online, and that takes on greater importance when it comes to services that would otherwise give you every game. Also, regional sports networks have been harder to find on live TV streaming services. When you do find them, those services often come at a higher price.
This is why AT&T TV is our top pick for best service for streaming local sports, but you must upgrade beyond the basic package. Local sports fans should get at least the AT&T TV Choice Package, which is $85 per month. This package includes more than 90 Regional Sports Networks, including many that are available online only with AT&T TV. Most of the other major Live TV streaming services only have a handful of regional sports networks available.
You might get lucky and find that another service carries your local sports network, and you certainly will want to confirm before you sign up. Be sure to visit the websites for AT&T TV, FuboTV, Hulu with Live TV, Sling TV and YouTube TV and enter your zip code to find out which local channels they offer you.
Best services for streaming football
NFL football has been one of the easiest sports for cord-cutters to watch online, especially for their local team. As an all-in-one answer, YouTube TV is again our choice for best service to watch streaming football. YouTube TV has all the local broadcast networks plus ESPN and NFL Network, and the service allows fans to add on NFL RedZone as part of Sports Extra for an additional $11 per month, for a total of $76 a month.
You can also subscribe to NFL RedZone as a standalone service, but you can only watch that version on your phone.
NFL football games are showing up more often on individual streaming services recently, and that will expand soon as part of the latest NFL broadcast agreements. Amazon Prime Video already broadcasts 11 Thursday Night Football games, with most of those games also appearing on Fox. Starting with the 2022 season, Amazon Prime Video will have exclusive national rights to Thursday Night Football. Prime Video costs $9 a month, but most people get it as part of an Amazon Prime membership for $119 a year.
Network streaming services are getting in the game, too, and they can provide fans a cheaper way to see their favorite NFL teams. All NFL on CBS games will also be streamed live on Paramount + as part of both that service’s ad-supported $5-per-month Essential plan and the $10-per-month Commercial Free plan. Disney can simulcast all ABC and ESPN NFL games on ESPN+ for $6 per month or $60 a year. They will also have one exclusive International game on ESPN+.
Peacock will stream all NBC Sunday Night Football games starting in 2021. Peacock also plans to launch a virtual NFL channel with classic content. Peacock will have a select number of exclusive games in the future. Sports on Peacock requires Peacock Premium, which starts at $5 per month. If you get Paramount+, ESPN+ and Peacock Premium together, you’ll be able to stream most Sunday afternoon, Sunday night, and Monday Night games for just $17 a month.
Premium: $4.99/month or $49.99/year; Premium Plus (no ads): $9.99/month or $99.99/year
The one unknown factor in using network streaming services to watch football are NFL on Fox Sunday games. In announcing its new carriage deals, Fox has mentioned only digital rights flexibility and the ability to “enable future direct-to-consumer opportunities” regarding games. Fox did confirmed a recent earnings call that they won’t be putting live NFL on Fox games on Tubi in 2021.
Best services for streaming baseball
When it comes to streaming Major League Baseball, the most important issue is if you root for your home team or not. If you want to watch your local baseball team, the AT&T TV Choice Package ($85 a month) will more than likely be your best bet. Just make sure to check the service’s website to know if AT&T TV, or any other Live TV service, includes the Regional Sports Network near you.
Everyone else who loves baseball but doesn’t live near their favorite team has a much better option. MLB.TV—the official streaming service of Major League Baseball—is the best service for streaming baseball. It costs $130 for All Teams and $110 for one team, as long as it isn’t your local team. You’ll only miss out on nationally televised games or any games played against the team closest to you, but this still streams hundreds of regular season games for less than the cost of two months of a Live TV streaming service.
If you do want to watch those national games and the baseball playoffs, then YouTube TV is your best option. YouTube TV has all the games on TBS, ESPN, FS1, Fox, and MLB Network.
The distance between you and your favorite NBA team will also determine which services are best for streaming basketball. If you need to see your home team play, check for their regional sports network on the website of the various live-TV streaming services.
Everyone else can choose between NBA League Pass and YouTube TV, depending on which best fits how you want to watch games. NBA League Pass costs $200 for all teams, and $120 for one team, and it gives fans the most games for their money. Now you can also subscribe to NBA TV a la carte for only $7 per month or $60 for an entire year.
If you want the nationally televised games and the NBA Playoffs, you’ll need a service with TNT, ESPN, ABC, and NBA TV. The best way to see them all is with YouTube TV.
The WNBA plays high-level pro basketball on ABC, ESPN, CBS, CBSSN, Twitter, and Facebook. While you can get these channels on a live TV streaming service, the best service for streaming WNBA basketball is with WNBA League Pass. At $17 for the entire season, it’s a fantastic deal.
Best services for streaming hockey
ESPN+ is the best service for streaming hockey, unless you’re looking to watch your local team. Starting with the 2021-22 season, ESPN+ will have all the NHL out-of-market games streaming as part of its $6-per-month service. This means hockey fans can get access to more than 1,000 games per season. Also, there will be 75 nationally broadcast games available only on ESPN+ and Hulu.
If you want the other nationally broadcast NHL games, you’ill need ESPN, ABC, TNT, TBS and the NHL Network. Sling TV’s Orange Package ($35 per month) with the Sports Extra add-on ($11 per month) can give you almost every nationally broadcast game for $46 per month. If you want to watch your local hockey team play, check our advice above about local sports networks. Chances are high that AT&T TV will be your best bet.
Watching streaming soccer matches has gotten much easier than it used to be, and it now depends mostly on which league competitions you want to see. Three of the biggest network streaming services have been competing for the rights to stream the top U.S. and international leagues to fans in the United States.
Peacock Premium has exclusive rights to many of the Premier League fixtures for $5 per month. More Premier League matches air on NBC, NBCSN, and USA, which you can get on Sling Blue for $35 a month.
ESPN+ has an impressive list of soccer leagues available on its $6-per-month service, including Bundesliga, MLS, La Liga, Copa Del Rey, FA Cup, EFL, Carabao Cup, SuperCup, U.S. Open Cup, UEFA Nations League, and more.
Paramount+ also carries many major soccer leagues, including UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, UEFA Women’s Championship, Liga Profesional de Fútbol Argentino, Serie A, Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, NWSL, and Concacaf. The service costs $5 a month.
Liga MX, a popular Mexican soccer league, does not have an exclusive deal with a streaming service; instead, Liga MX games air on Fox, Univision, Telemundo, Universo, and ESPN Deportes on FuboTV is your best option to get these channels streaming on one service for $65 a month.
Best service for streaming UFC
ESPN+ is the best service for streaming Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bouts. There are lots of UFC Fight Night cards exclusively on ESPN+, and most of the UFC cards on ESPN or ESPN2 now simulcast on ESPN+. For $6 per month, ESPN+ also includes the Prelims cards before each month’s regular Pay-Per-View events.
UFC pay-per-view events are available exclusively on ESPN+, so every fan needs that service in order to purchase the biggest fights all year long. Each UFC pay-per-view costs an extra $70.
Best services for streaming boxing
While streaming sports like soccer depends on which league you want to watch, boxing is more about which promoter and fighters you want to see. Three major streaming services have a ton of boxing, and each is tied to a different promotional company. The best service for streaming boxing is the one that has the fights you want to see, so find a good boxing schedule online and find out where your favorite fighters will be featured.
ESPN+ costs $6 a month or $60 a year, and the service has lots of boxing events from Top Rank boxing promotions. Some Top Rank boxing events also air on ESPN, so check to see if you’ll need a live TV service like Sling TV’s $35-per-month Orange Plan to see them.
DAZN is a boxing-focused sports streaming service that costs $20 per month or $99 a year. In the U.S., DAZN has boxing from Matchroom Boxing and Golden Boy promotions.
Showtime is a premium channel with a streaming option for $11 per month. In addition to Hollywood and original movies and original series, Showtime has major boxing events from PBC boxing promotions.
ESPN+, Showtime, and Fox also have the occasional boxing pay-per-view event available to buy and stream online. There are also boxing events available on Fox, FS1, and NBCSN, which you can get for $35-per-month on Sling TV Blue. But to be frank, your money is better spent on one of the other services mentioned if you’re looking to watch boxing.
Best services for streaming golf
If you want to watch the best golfers in the world hit the links, you’ll need a live TV streaming service that includes CBS, NBC, Golf Channel, and ESPN. YouTube TV is your best option at $65 per month, but FuboTV and Hulu with Live TV will also work for the same price.
The golf events on NBC will also be available on Peacock Premium for $5 per month. The Masters golf tournament on CBS is also available on Paramount+, but for live local coverage, you’ll need the $10-per-month commercial-free plan.
PGA Tour Live is available in 2021 on NBC Sports Gold for $40 for the season or $10 per month. Starting in 2022, PGA Tour Live is moving to ESPN+ as part of that service’s $6-per-month, $60-per-year subscription plan. The move will include increased coverage beyond the current version of PGA Tour Live.
Best services for streaming auto racing
There are three major auto racing leagues, so you will need different services depending on which auto racing you want to stream.
NASCAR races air on NBC, Fox, FS1, and NBCSN, which means you’ll need a live-TV streaming service to watch NASCAR without cable. The same is true for IndyCar, because the main IndyCar races are on NBC and NBCSN. Sling TV’s $35-per-month Blue plan is the easiest way to get all those channels. Peacock Premium has IndyCar practices, time trials, and IndyLights races, but it doesn’t have the big races like the Indy 500 yet.
Formula One races air on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, however F1 has its own streaming service that is a better option than a live TV streaming service. F1 TV Pro is available for $80 per year, and the service has live streaming coverage of all F1, F2, F3, and Porsche Supercup events.
More options for niche sports
ESPN+ ($6 per month) includes a ton more sports, including tennis from the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. They also have the HSBC World Rugby Seven Series; Little League World Series Baseball; NBA G-League games; and major college sports, including college football, baseball, softball, men’s and women’s basketball, lacrosse, track and field, and much more.
Paramount+ ($10 per month) has major college sports, including NCAA College Basketball, and SEC College Football. They also have the new pro basketball league known as the Big3.
Peacock Premium ($5 per month) has the Olympics, along with Tennis, USATF Track & Field Championships, Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, Premier Lacrosse League, Cycling, European Professional Club Rugby and Premiership Rugby. The service also includes the WWE Network.
NBC Sports Gold used to be a bigger player, but most of the service’s a la carte Sports Passes, including Premier League Soccer and MotoCross, have all moved to Peacock. Only three passes remain, with Cycling, TrackPass, and PGA Tour Live.
B/R Live is ending its service on June 30, 2021. They will be moving their streaming coverage of All Elite Wrestling (AEW) and ONE Championship MMA to the main Bleacher Report website.
Sling TV offers an International Sports Plan that is just $10 per month, and it includes Willow TV coverage of the ICC Cricket World Cup and professional Cricket leagues in Australia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, England and Wales, and more. The Sling TV International Sports Plan also includes beIN Sports
Slim your roster during the offseason
One of the best ways to save money watching sports as a cord-cutter is to pay only for what you want to watch during the season. When your favorite sport hits the offseason, you can cancel that service. If you subscribe to ESPN+ just for Bundesliga, you might cancel your service at the end of May and not pay again until you re-activate it when the season restarts in September.
In fact, this can give you the freedom to become an even bigger sports fan because you can use the money you save from cancelling during the offseason to sample new sports for the first time. You can spend $5 for one month of Peacock Premium to see why so many people love rugby worldwide, or $6 for one month of ESPN+ during the fall to see your alma mater or local college play basketball,
Streaming sports gives everyone access to more games than were available on cable TV, and with no contracts. Use that freedom to pick the games you want and watch them wherever you go.