When your favorite sports finally come back, don’t be caught without the video streaming service you need to watch your favorite teams. Our guide breaks down the best streaming services for each sport. Spoiler alert: Streaming rights are a mess.
Getting rid of cable does not mean that you can no longer watch your favorite sports. Live TV services feature many of the networks and local channels you get with a cable subscription, though not every service offers every channel. Subscription prices vary wildly between services, too.
So, how can you find the right service? A good strategy is to make a list of all the sports teams you watch along with the channels or networks that hold those broadcasting rights. Next, use a tool such as The Streamable’s Channel Finder to find which service offers those channels. In the case that more than one service offers all the channels you want to watch, consider the cost, features, and additional content you get with a subscription.
The Live TV Streaming Service Experience
What should cord cutters expect from a live TV service? For one, even though the prices of live TV streaming services have steadily increased, you can choose to pay for services on a month-to-month basis (something that not all cable providers allow). Additionally, very few of the video streaming services we’ve reviewed only cover sports. Some offer tons of news and entertainment channels as well. Others include massive libraries of on-demand movies and TV shows to tide you over to the next game. Many services include easy-to-use DVR functionality with ample cloud storage, negating the need for a dedicated hardware box. The services' cross-platform apps are also typically highly intuitive and reliable.
Sports streaming services don’t improve on every aspect of the cable experience. For instance, you can’t escape the ads from live TV streams. The streaming resolution of a broadcast also depends on the channel, so you won’t magically get to watch every game in 4K and HDR. Some streams run slightly behind the live broadcasts, too.
Sports Broadcast Coverage Is a Mess
The biggest hurdle for sports fans who want to cut the cord for good is navigating a minefield of coverage blackouts and broadcast rights. Some games broadcast nationally, which means everyone can watch them, regardless of their location. However, there is a difference between national syndications and national exclusivity. In the former’s case, the game will broadcast on your local regional sports network (RSN) with a blackout on the national channel. In the latter's, the game will air on the national channel everywhere.
Coverage blackouts most often occur for games in markets where RSNs are available (which is to say most metropolitan areas). Either FOX or NBC run most, but not all, RSNs. Collectively, FOX and NBC RSNs cover 28 NBA teams, six WNBA teams, 20 MLB teams, and 18 NHL teams. So, for MLB, NBA, NHL, WNBA, and some NCAA games, these RSNs play a significant role in determining which channels you need. Other RSNs are not fully managed by either FOX or NBC. Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), MSG, NESN, SportsNet Pittsburgh, SportsNet Rocky Mountains, and YES are some examples.
On the other hand, NFL games will always broadcast on your local affiliate channels, so you don’t need FOX RSNs to watch your local NFL team on Sunday afternoons (games will air on affiliate FOX or CBS channels).
Some of the dedicated services from individual leagues, such as MLB.TV, NBA League Pass, and NHL.TV, only allow you to watch live games if they are out-of-market. In other words, if a local RSN has broadcast rights to a team in your area, you can't watch those games live on these services. You could try to use a VPN to bypass regional coverage blackouts, though know that many live TV streaming services block VPN traffic or require you to set a home location.
Again, my best advice is to check the broadcast schedule for your local team and make sure that the video streaming service you choose includes the network affiliates, cable channels, and RSNs that have the broadcast rights. In some cases, a cable subscription may very well be the only way to watch your local team. Some cable subscriptions may even offer more channels overall and for cheaper.
You may be able to watch some major sporting events for free on the organization's website, too, negating the need for casual sports fans to pay for any of these services. And yes, there are also many illegal ways to stream sports online, but PCMag does not condone piracy.
What This Guide Covers
Our guide only covers sports broadcasts in the US. We don’t tackle NCAA college sports or other international sports leagues (we make an exception for Premier League soccer). We include both the sports' status (even though the COVID-19 pandemic may cause some changes) and all the channels and services you need to watch the sport. In the case that more than one video streaming service has all the necessary channels, we consider the value, technical capabilities, and extra content on the service to determine the best one.
Best Streaming Service for Watching MLB Games
Channels: ESPN, FOX, FOX RSNs, FS1, MLB Network, NBC RSNs, AT&T SportsNet affiliates, and TBS
AT&T TV Now's Max plan is your best bet for MLB coverage. It covers all of the national and local channels (including AT&T's SportsNet channels) you need to watch in-market and national broadcasts of MLB games for $80 per month. However, it is missing MLB Network, which could be a dealbreaker. If you do not live in an area covered by a SportsNet channel, YouTube TV and Hulu are slightly cheaper options. YouTube TV is missing Fox Sports West, MASN, and YES, but it covers all the other FOX and NBC RSNs. Hulu lacks NESN, MASN, and MLB Network, but otherwise matches YouTube TV's lineup.
YouTube TV’s unlimited DVR storage is a great option for catching up with any matchups you may have missed, which also gives it an edge over Hulu’s 50-hour limit. AT&T TV Now can keep 500 hours of DVR recordings for up to 90 days.
The MLB offers a dedicated streaming package for watching out-of-market games, called MLB.TV. You get to choose whether you want to watch every out-of-market MLB game ($59.99 per year) or just every out-of-market game for a specific team ($49.99 per year). If you live in a TV market where a local RSN has broadcast rights, the game’s stream becomes available approximately 90 minutes after the game ends. You can check what blackouts apply to your area on the service’s pricing page.
Best Streaming Service for Watching NBA Games
Channels/Services: ABC, ESPN, FOX RSNs, NBA TV, NBA League Pass, NBC RSNs, and TNT
If you can do without the few games that air exclusively to NBA League Pass subscribers, YouTube TV is the best option for NBA fans. Despite the recent price hike, YouTube TV’s subscription cost still comes in below that of fuboTV’s standard plan and Sports Plus package. YouTube TV also has the benefit of unlimited DVR storage, a top-notch interface, and 1080p streams for most channels. Some games are only available to watch on your local RSN. For some NBA markets, such as New York, this is problematic, since YouTube TV no longer carries MSG or YES (AT&T TV Now carries both).
Another option is the NBA’s League Pass for $99.99 per year, which enables you to watch live out-of-market games and game replays. Some games throughout the remainder of the season will exclusively air to these subscribers, so there’s no way around a subscription.
However, there are some massive caveats. If you are in a market where blackout restrictions apply, you will not be able to watch local games as they air. You need to wait three days before you can watch an archived version. National games broadcast on ESPN, ABC, TNT, and NBA TV (which is the majority of them) are not available to watch on NBA League Pass as they air either. You need to wait until three hours after the broadcast to watch affected matchups. You can check what coverage blackouts apply to your area on the service’s pricing page.
If you don’t want to watch ads, the NBA League Pass’s price goes up to $124.99 per year. If you only care about a single team, you can subscribe to NBA Team Pass for $59.99 per year. You can also add on an NBA League Pass subscription to either YouTube TV or Sling TV, as well as subscribe via Prime Video’s channel add-on.
Best Streaming Service for Watching WNBA Games
Channels: ABC, CBS Sports Network, CW affiliates, ESPN, ESPN 2, FOX RSNs, NBC RSNs, NBA TV, and SportsNet RSNs
We haven’t reviewed a sports streaming service that includes all of the channels you need to watch every WNBA game. Three services get close: AT&T TV Now, Hulu with Live TV, and YouTube TV. However, Hulu lacks NBA TV, NESN, and Spectrum SportsNet, while YouTube TV lacks Spectrum SportsNet and YES. AT&T TV Now's Max plan is missing Fox Sports Indiana and NBA TV.
Alternatively, the WNBA offers a dedicated League Pass. You can subscribe to this plan to watch non-nationally televised games. As with the NBA League Pass, blackouts may still apply in the case that an RSN has rights to the game broadcast in your local market.
Best Streaming Service for Watching NFL Games
Status: A shortened preseason starts August 13, 2020.
Channels: CBS, ESPN, FOX, NBC, and NFL Network
FuboTV carries all the channels you need to watch every nationally broadcast NFL game and the local ones in your market. No other video streaming service can claim that. FuboTV couldn’t claim that either until recently; the service announced that it would soon include Disney channels (including ESPN) as part of its subscription. FuboTV also has the distinction of being one of the only live TV services to offer any events in 4K. Football fans will also appreciate the Lookback (watch anything you may have missed up to 72 hours after it first aired) and Startover (watch currently airing events from the beginning no matter when you tune in) features. However, the included 30 hours of DVR storage is not as impressive as competitors’ offerings.
For additional options, check out our roundup of the best NFL streaming services. You can watch national broadcasts (Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football, and Monday Night Football) for free on mobile devices via the Yahoo Sports or NFL apps, too.
Best Streaming Service for Watching PGA Tour Events
Channels: CBS, NBC, Golf Channel
Hulu with Live TV has all the channels you need to stream PGA Tour events and the major golf tournaments at a lower monthly price than both fuboTV and YouTube TV. Those services also lack the benefit of Hulu’s extensive library of on-demand shows and movies.
If you don’t want a full-fledged live TV streaming service, you can subscribe to PGA Tour live via NBC Sports Gold or as a Prime Video channel for $9.99 per month or $64.99 per year. Note that with either of these subscriptions, you only get to watch the events that air on NBC.
Best Streaming Service for Watching LPGA Tour Events
Channels: NBC and Golf Channel
Many of the sports streaming services we’ve reviewed include both of these channels, but Sling's Blue plan with the Sports Add-On is the cheapest way to stream LPGA tour events. This plan supports three simultaneous streams and 10 hours of DVR storage.
Best Streaming Service for Watching NHL Games
Status: A modified playoff schedule will resume on August 1, 2020.
Channels: CNBC, FOX RSNs, NBC RSNs, NBC Sports Network, NHL Network, SportsNet RSNs, and USA
AT&T TV Now's Max plan covers the majority of channels that broadcast NHL games, despite lacking a few FOX RSNs and NHL Network. YouTube TV and Hulu follow closely behind in terms of channel coverage. Depending on your location, you may be able to save money with Hulu or YouTube TV, rather than shelling out for AT&T TV Now's $80-a-month plan. If you want to watch the NHL Network channel, Sling TV's blue plan with the Sports Extra is the cheapest option.
Alternatively, you can subscribe to NHL.TV, which costs either $24.99 per month, or 115.99 per year (one team) or $144.99 per year (all teams). Like the dedicated NBA and MLB streaming services, NHL.TV is subject to coverage blackouts for in-market games. Still, you do get to watch full replays of the games after they air.
Best Streaming Service for Watching NWHL Games
Status: A new season is expected to start in mid-November.
Whenever the NWHL resumes, you can watch all of the matchups on Twitch. You don’t need to pay to view NWHL’s Twitch streams, but you can certainly subscribe to the channel via one of three tiers for $4.99, $9.99, or $29.99 per month. More expensive tiers give you some perks like custom emotes, ad-free streaming, and members-only chats. Check out our full review of Twitch for more information on the game and entertainment streaming service.
Best Streaming Service for Watching MMA and Boxing Events
Channels/Services: Dazn, ESPN, and ESPN+
Dazn ($19.99 per month) carries boxing from Golden Boy Promotions, Matchroom Boxing, GGG Promotions, and World Boxing Super Series. It also features MMA matches from promoters such as Bellator, Combate Americas, and KSW.
Sling’s Orange Plan is the cheapest way to get ESPN, which includes some UFC Fight Nights and undercard matchups. However, PPV fights ($65 for each title card) are exclusive to ESPN+ subscribers ($4.99 per month). That’s the only way in the US to purchase any UFC PPV events. Top Rank Boxing events also air on both ESPN and ESPN+.
Best Streaming Service for Watching NASCAR Races
Channels: FOX, FS1, NBC, and NBC Sports Network
Sling’s Blue plan is the cheapest way to get all the channels that broadcast NASCAR races. The Blue plan supports three simultaneous streams and includes a mix of news and entertainment channels. As with all of Sling TV’s other plans, you get 10 hours of DVR storage.
Best Streaming Service for Watching Formula 1 Races
Channels: ESPN and ESPN 2
Sling’s Orange plan is the cheapest way to stream these ESPN channels. The Orange plan does not support simultaneous streaming, but you still get 10 hours of DVR storage.
Alternatively, there is a dedicated video streaming service for Formula 1 fans, called F1 TV. The Pro tier costs $79.99 per year and allows subscribers to watch live coverage of all the races as well as replays of events. The $26.99-per-year F1 TV Access plan gives you access to full replays, but not live events.
Best Streaming Service for Watching Premier League Matches
Channels: NBC Sports Network, NBC Sports Gold, and Peacock
At least some Premier League matches will air exclusively to US viewers on either NBC’s video streaming service, Peacock, or via NBC Sports Gold for the remainder of the season. However, coverage will transition entirely to Peacock for next season, with the NBC Sports Gold option ceasing to exist. Unfortunately, you can’t watch these matches with a free Peacock account; you need to subscribe to one of the service’s premium tiers at $49.99 or $79.99 per year (ad-free). Other matches will air on NBC’s broadcast or Sports Network channels. The cheapest way to get those channels is with Sling’s Blue plan, which costs $30 per month.
Best Streaming Service for Watching MLS Matches
Channels: ESPN, ESPN 2, FOX, FS1, and TUDN
Once ESPN arrives on fuboTV, it will be the best sports streaming service for MLS fans, since it is the only one that also includes TUDN. FuboTV’s standard plan costs $59.99 per month and supports two simultaneous streams and 30 hours of DVR storage. We already mentioned the benefits of its Startover and Lookback streaming features.
Best Streaming Service for Watching WNSL Matches
Status: The Challenge Cup is in progress.
Service: CBS All Access
The WNSL’s 2020 season is suspended, with the Challenge Cup now in place. All the games will air on CBS All Access, so there’s no need to subscribe to any other video streaming service. In addition to live coverage of sports from your local CBS network, CBS All Access is home to a large library of on-demand network shows and streaming originals, including Star Trek: Picard.
Best Streaming Service for Watching Tennis
Status: Playresumes on August 22, 2020.
Channels: ABC, CBS, ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN 3, NBC Sports Network, and Tennis Channel
YouTube TV includes all the channels you need for watching regular Tennis tournaments and all four majors. The service is not cheap, but tennis fans will certainly find a use for YouTube TV's unlimited DVR storage, given how long matches can last. It's one of the only services that includes the Tennis Channel without the need to pay for any add-ons.
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