How to Watch Live Sports Online

nfl video

We’ve had a blast with our new Cord Cutters show, where we get to talk about how users can cancel their cable and still get access to all of their favorite programming online. But the one question we get more than any other is how users can watch live sports without a cable subscription.

Unfortunately for many avid sports fans, there is no ESPN for online video, no single answer for where you can watch all of the major sports leagues in one place. However, there are ways that you can catch most live sporting events online, if you put a little bit of effort into it. Below we’ve put together a list of all the sites and services you can use for watching MLB, NBA, NHL and even NFL games without having a cable connection.

Just one caveat: with the exception of the NFL, which has national video rights, most sports teams and leagues depend on local cable rights, which supersede online video distribution. Since sports teams get a good portion of their revenues from selling rights to local cable and broadcast stations, most have clauses that say nationally broadcast games will be blacked out in that local market — and the same goes for online distribution. So if you’re a Yankees fan trying to stream their games from home in the Bronx, you’re generally out of luck with online services.

MLB NFL NBA NHL
Service MLB.tv DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket To-Go NBA League Pass Broadband NHL Game Center Live
Price $20/month, $100/season (2010 season) $350 $120 for 7 teams, $190 for all teams $170
Available devices PCs, iPhone, iPad, Roku, PS3, Boxee PCs, iPhone, iPad or Palm Pre, select Android, Blackberry & Windows Mobile devices PCs, iPhone, iPad, Android mobile devices, as well as Roku, PS3 and soon Samsung TVs PCs, iPad, Roku, Boxee and PS3

Using a Digital Antenna

Before getting into the online avenues for sports content, however, it’s probably worth noting that the easiest way to get a lot of live games, particularly around playoff time, is by purchasing a digital antenna. That will give most users access to live over-the-air programming from ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, giving them the ability to watch the majority of live NFL games, for instance, without having to pay for an online service.

Major League Baseball

Over the last several years, MLB has worked hard to create one of the premier live sports destinations online. MLB.tv has led the way for live streaming online, giving baseball fans the ability to watch all out-of-market games for $20 a month or $100 for the full season. But not only has MLB enabled viewers to tune in to live games on their PCs, it has extended viewing to mobile apps on the iPhone and iPad, and even onto TVs with apps on Roku broadband set-top boxes and PlayStation 3 game consoles. For the playoffs, MLB even makes live video feeds of all the games available on Postseason.tv, priced at just $9.99 for all games from the Division Series to the World Series.

National Football League

If live sports is the killer app for TV, the one thing that many viewers decide they can’t live without, and a reason not to cut the cord, then watching the NFL games online is the most frustrating task to accomplish. This is due to some very lucrative national broadcast rights, which give exclusivity to a few distributors and keep games from being streamed online. That means that while MLB, the NBA and the NHL are courting their fans online, the NFL is trying to keep its fans from being able to watch games online.

But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel: NBC acquired multiplatform rights through its Sunday Night Football deal, and over the past few years has streamed those games live online. (Surprisingly enough, those streams haven’t hurt NBC’s viewership, as Sunday Night Football has led in the Sunday ratings all season long.) And DirecTV, which has exclusive rights from the NFL to show all the games through its NFL Sunday Ticket offering, is now making live streams of all those games available online, so long as users are willing to pony up $350 for the season to watch games on their PCs, iPhone, iPad or Palm Pre, as well as select Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices.

National Basketball League

The NBA has a streaming product of its own, called NBA League Pass Broadband, which lets users watch games from around the league online or on select mobile and connected devices. League Pass Broadband has two flavors: one that costs $120 for the season and allows users to pick up to seven NBA teams they want to follow, and another plan for $190 that gives them access to all games from all 30 teams. The NBA, like Major League Baseball, also makes its video accessible over a wide range of mobile devices, and is working to get apps on connected devices like TVs and Blu-ray players. While NBA Digital has in previous years rolled out hundreds of mobile apps for iOS, Android and Blackberry mobile phones, it’s simplified things this year with a single, free app for each platform that lets fans buy additional features once it has been downloaded.

National Hockey League

The NHL has been working hard to rebuild its fan base after a lockout during the 2004/2005 season left fans without any hockey for a whole year. It also hurt viewership, since the league ended up striking a deal with cable network Versus, which isn’t as widely distributed (or as loved by sports fans) as ESPN, which previously had the NHL deal. Nevertheless, lack of widespread hockey coverage is no longer a problem, since the league has now launched its own streaming service, called NHL GameCenter Live. The service, which lets hockey fans watch up to 40 out-of-market games a week, costs $170 for the season, and also gives users access to streaming video on devices like the iPad, the PS3, Roku set-top boxes and the Boxee Box by D-Link.

Related content on GigaOM Pro:

loading

Comments have been disabled for this post