Football fans: how to cut your cable and still watch your games
You cut the cord, didn’t you? And it was going great — you have Netflix and your mom’s HBO Go password, so no problem. Except now it’s football season and you need to see all those games.
Before you go running back to the cable and satellite providers, know that there is another way. Or more accurately, many other ways. It can get a little confusing, but we’re here to help guide you through (and we’re keeping it legal).
First, an antenna is a good idea – and you probably already have one if you’ve killed your cable. A lot of NFL and college games will air on CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox, so you’re all set there. A good indoor HD antenna, such as Mohu Leaf (a one-time cost starting around $40) will probably do the trick, but some folks require an attic or rooftop version. You can also get some of the broadcast networks through a streaming service, but not all services include the broadcast networks live.
For the other games, you’ll need to start with a robust internet connection and then dive into the growing number of streaming services available. Most of these offer a free introductory period — definitely use it to verify that the channels they claim to carry are actually available in this area. Most are available through Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire devices, as well as Android and iOS apps.
Here’s a look at what’s out there right now, updated as of August 2018:
There are two packages available plus a way to combine them, depending on your needs. There’s a lot of stuff here, including: NBC and Fox (not available in all markets — check here for availability) plus all the ESPN channels and Fox Sports channels. You also get the ACC Network Extra, NBCSN, PAC-12, SEC Network, CSN, NFL Network and RedZone (an extra). Make a mental note for NCAA basketball tournament time that you can also get TNT, TBS and truTV here. You also get log-in credentials for the WatchESPN app. The bummer: You can’t watch CBS or ABC on Sling and there’s no Big Ten. You can stream concurrently on up to four devices, depending on which plan you choose.
Find it: sling.com
Cost: $25 for each package or $40 for both packages per month
This is a streaming service, so you don’t need DirecTV’s satellite subscription. For your football watching purposes, DirecTV Now lists ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox (check to make sure they are available in your market), plus the Fox Sports channels and ESPN channels. You also get NFL Network (and MLB, NHL and NBA), NBCSN, Big Ten Network, SEC Network and some regional sports networks. (Plus, TNT, TBS and truTV come March Madness). You also get log-in credentials for CSN, ESPN, Fox, Fox Sports, NBC, NBC Universo, NBC Sports and Telemundo. You can watch on three screens at one time.
Cost: Starts at $40 per month
All Playstation Vue packages include ABC, NBC and Fox, plus ESPN and Fox Sports channels. You also get the Big Ten Network, SEC Network, CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network (plus MLB, NBA and Olympics). For March Madness, you’ll have TNT, TBS and truTV. VUE will also get you the NFL Network and you can add a Sports Pack with more channels (including regional channels) for $10/month. You’ll get three to five simultaneous streams per account. (Note: You don’t have to have a Playstation game system to use this, you can watch through Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Google Chromecast.)
Find it: playstation.com/en-us/network/vue
Cost: $45-$80 per month
Hulu with Live TV
Hulu with Live TV (not the same as regular Hulu) offers a lot of channels, but as with all streaming services, check local availability for the broadcast networks. It lists WRAL, WTVD and Fox50 among the live local channels available, but use your free trial to verify. For sports, Hulu Live lists the Fox Sports and ESPN channels, plus CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network, Big Ten Network, SEC Network (as well as Golf, Olympics and Bases Loaded). Plus TNT, TBS and truTV. It includes log-in credentials for CBS Sports, ESPN, Fox and other channels. You can watch on two screens at one time and you get 50 hours of Cloud DVR storage.
Find it: hulu.com/live-tv
Cost: Starts at $39.99 per month
YouTube TV has a solid lineup, including the major broadcast networks – ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC (check local availability). It also has the ESPN networks, Fox Sports channels, CBS Sports, NBC Sports, SEC and Big Ten (plus MLB, NBA, Golf, Olympics and Tennis). You get six accounts per household and unlimited DVR cloud storage.
Find it: tv.youtube.com
Cost: $40 per month
This streaming service lists NBC, Fox 50, Fox Sports Carolina, FS1 and FS2, plus the NFL Network. But there’s no ESPN or CBS (except CBS Sports Network). You do get beIN Sports, PAC 12, Big Ten, NBC Sports, NBA, Eleven Sports, Olympics, Golf and add-on options for even more.
Find it: fubo.tv
Cost: $40-$50 per month
Amazon Prime has renewed its deal to show Thursday night NFL games for 2018-2019, plus one Saturday game. You can watch anywhere you watch Amazon Prime content, including your phone app. The games will also stream on Amazon’s Twitch.
Cost: $119 per year or $12.99 per month
This one is easy. If you don’t mind watching on your computer, ACC games can be streamed at theacc.com. (As a sharp reader pointed out, you may also be able to run an HDMI cable from your laptop to your TV to watch these games on a big screen.) Many of the games will also air on local affiliate stations (use your antenna), and they’ll list all that on their website within 10 days of each game. (Those with a cable or satellite log-in can also watch via ACC Network Extra, a collaborative effort of the ACC and ESPN).
Find it: theacc.com/watch
Stadium network has a number of exclusive live and on-demand games and other content, and you can watch over-the-air (with an antenna) or on cable. You can also stream online via Stadium mobile apps, Facebook, Twitter (@WatchStadium), Twitch (twitch.tv/stadium) or via Roku or FuboTV channels.
Find it: watchstadium.com
Cost: $4.99 per month for streaming (but some content is free)
VideoInk reports that Facebook recently closed on a deal to stream some college football games through Stadium this season over Facebook Watch. Not to be left out, Sports Video reports that ESPN is partnering with Twitter to stream five college games this season.
College Sports Network
CSN (through CBS Sports) has deals with many college teams, with some home games streaming (but sometimes just a radio broadcast).
Find it: collegesportslive.com
Cost: $9.99 per month or $99.95 per year
This mobile carrier has exclusive mobile phone rights to live NFL games.
Cost: Varies, depending on your phone plan.
CBS All Access
CBS All Access will stream NFL games carried by its affiliates, but you’ll only get the games carried by your local affiliate.
Find it: cbs.com/all-access
Cost: Starting at $5.99-$9.99 per month or $59.99-$99.99 per year
Borrow a password/Go to a bar
There’s always the old “Hey, can I borrow your password?” plan – not strictly ethical, but a popular method that streaming services and some providers are starting to crack down on a bit. We are not endorsing this practice.
Or you could just find a sports bar that’s playing the game and make it a party.
Don’t cut the cord if ...
▪ You value convenience and reliability. Cord-cutting isn’t for everyone. If you watch a lot of television (sports and otherwise) and value the convenience of having everything in one place, the cable bill is probably worth it to you. Also, some cord-cutters report buffering issues when streaming popular live events.
▪ You have a bunch of TVs. Steve Young of Holly Springs is an N.C. State fan with nine TVs in one room. He told us for our 2017 streaming guide that he researched cord-cutting and it didn’t make sense for him. “These cord-cutting features are designed for using one TV at a time,” he says. He does have multiple DirecTV boxes, but says he has worked out a good deal.
Even if you don’t have nine TVs, it’s pretty easy to get carried away with all the a la carte streaming services and end up paying just as much – or more – than you do for your cable or satellite package.
▪ You are a tailgating monster. When Young isn’t watching an away game on one of his nine TVs, he has a pro-level tailgating situation with his RV at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh. A big part of tailgating is food, and depending on the weekend, Young might have pizzas fresh from his pizza oven, a pig cooker going or an oyster-shrimp-crab legs feast complete with a DJ. Young tailgates with two 40-inch TVs and a 12-foot inflatable screen – and you absolutely cannot rely on streaming to feed those screens when the place gets crowded. So Young has a DirecTV dish on his RV. “You can stream a movie on a Friday (he tailgates from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning), but Saturday during game day, you aren’t doing anything of significance over the internet,” Young says of the wifi availability. “It’s painful.”