Many people sign up for cable TV subscriptions solely for the sports offerings. However, many streaming services now offer a variety of sports programming. If you're hanging on to your cable provider to watch the game, you may want to consider sports streaming options.
Due to the intricate web of licensing agreements, there isn't a single streaming platform with everything. Fortunately, we've looked into the big players in sports streaming to help you decide what best suits you and your viewing preferences.
FYI: there are many free streaming platforms for movies and more.
- Best Alternative to Basic Cable: SlingTV
- Best Entertainment and Sports Package: Hulu
- Best for Hockey Fans: ESPN+
- Best for Premiere League Soccer: Peacock
- Best for Package Options: DirecTV Stream
- Best for MLS Fans: AppleTV
- Best for Fight Fans: DAZN
- Best for Regional Sports Networks: FuboTV
- Best for Unlimited DVR: YouTube TV
- Honorable Mentions
- Frequently Asked Questions
Best Alternative to Basic Cable: SlingTV
SlingTV aims to take on cable companies by offering curated entertainment and sports packages. It's more affordable than cable and removes all the unnecessary fluff that you don't watch anyway. However, SlingTV splits its sports coverage across two separate subscription plans, and even then, you won't have access to every game in every sport. The best choice is to go with the package that includes both subscription plans plus the sports-centric add-on so that you net nearly every sports channel you could ever want, but this option also costs over $50 per month.
- Good balance of entertainment and sports
- Legitimate cable alternative: offers channels you're going to watch
- Splits sports coverage over two subscription plans
- Can be expensive
Best Entertainment and Sports Package: Hulu
Hulu is a streaming service that primarily focuses on TV series and movies. The channel has positioned itself as a replacement for traditional cable. You'll get access to all major broadcast networks, like NBC and FOX, where you'll find games from the NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAA, and more.
In addition, Hulu also boasts several sports-centric cable channels like ESPN, The Big Ten Network, the Golf Channel, the NFL Network, and more. However, its coverage has some notable gaps, like The MLB Network. Also, the availability of specific programming may vary depending on where you reside in the U.S. and which plan you subscribe to.
- Suitable replacement for cable
- Includes major broadcast networks and dedicated sports channels
- NFL Network and NFL Red Zone
- Must have a Hulu+ Live TV subscription
- No MLB Network
- Availability of specific games depends on your location
Tip: before streaming every sports game, you may want to check how much data is used when streaming.
Best for Hockey Fans: ESPN+
If you're a die-hard hockey fan, look no further than ESPN+. It has all of the NHL games – even those outside of your local market. In addition to hockey, ESPN+ streams tons of soccer content from various leagues around the globe, including games in Spain and Germany. ESPN+ does carry some select MLB games as well as replays of classic games. Sadly, ESPN+ doesn't have access to any NFL or NBA games, making it a less-than-perfect choice for football and basketball fans.
- Access to all out-of-market NHL games
- European soccer leagues
- A subscription unlocks all paywall content on ESPN.com
- No NFL or NBA games
- Limited MLB content
Best for Premiere League Soccer: Peacock
Owned by NBCUniversal, Peacock is mainly known as the home of beloved TV series like The Office and 30 Rock. However, Peacock does dabble in sports. Although it doesn't have as much sports content as others on this list, it has a few aces up its sleeve.
First, it has access to all Sunday Night Football games, as SNF is owned and operated by Peacock's parent company, NBC. Second, it is the U.S. streaming home of Premiere League soccer. Finally, Peacock is the streaming partner of WWE, so you'll have access to all of the high-octane drama professional wrestling has to offer across all of WWE's broadcast shows and Pay-Per-View events.
- Premiere League Soccer
- The streaming home of WWE and the Olympics
- Sunday Night Football
- Must subscribe to one of the platform's paid tiers
- Lacks variety
Tip: if your device doesn't have one of these apps, you can learn how to sideload apps to it.
Best for Package Options: DirecTV Stream
If you're a sports fanatic, you may want to look at DirecTV Stream. Compared to other platforms on this list, it's pricey. That said, it offers all of the major networks and cable networks like ESPN, TNT & TBS. You'll also have access to league-specific channels like NBA TV. DirecTV Stream is one of the few options that let you watch all of the Regional Sports Networks available in your area, minus NBC. As an added bonus, DirecTV Stream features an extensive rewind system that allows users to rewind up to 72 hours, perfect for when you want to dispute the ref's last call.
- League-specific channels (e.g., NBA TV)
- Access to all regional sports networks in your area (except for NBC)
- Rewind feature to go back 72 hours
- Missing NBC regional sports network
Best for MLS Fans: AppleTV
AppleTV is a bit late to the sports arena. However, they've made some significant investments in the space. Apple TV has inked a deal with Major League Baseball, which allows exclusive live streaming rights to two Friday night games. In addition, Apple TV has snapped up Major League Soccer, which includes all MLS matches with no restrictions for the next ten years.
There are rumors that Apple is trying to acquire NFL Sunday Ticket, but nothing has been set in stone. Apple TV can only be recommended at this stage if you're a hardcore MLS fan. That said, Apple has indicated that they believe live sports to be a driver of subscriptions, so it's safe to assume that they will aggressively pursue sports as they grow the platform.
- Exclusive MLS streaming rights
- Live Friday night MLB games
- Limited sports offerings
FYI: Plex and several Plex alternatives let you combine your favorite streaming services.
Best for Fight Fans: DAZN
If you can't get enough of grown men clobbering each other, then DAZN is for you. The platform caters to fight fans with exclusive boxing and MMA broadcasts (UFC not included). A massive plus for DAZN is that premium content, like Pay-Per-View matches, is included in the subscription cost, so you won't have to shell out per fight for higher-profile matches. In addition, DAZN features a robust archive of classic fights. Finally, DAZN features international content like cricket and less popular stuff that tends to get overlooked, like fishing and darts.
- Good for fight fans
- No extra cost for Pay-Per-View matches
- Some international and less popular offerings
- UFC is completely absent
- Offers NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL games to non-U.S. customers only
Best for Regional Sports Networks: FuboTV
With FuboTV, you will have access to 12 regional sports networks, regardless of which part of the country you reside in, so you won't be limited to games that are only available in your local market. In addition, you'll be able to watch all of the major networks and some specialty channels like The Big Ten Network and the Golf Channel. However, FuboTV does not have TNT or TBS, which could be a deal breaker for NBA fans.
Furthermore, opting for the more expensive Fubo Elite tier or the Fubo Extra add-on package will grant access to NBA, MLB, NHL, SEC, PAC 12, and Tennis channels. While this can get expensive, FuboTV also gives subscribers access to non-sports-related entertainment with over 100 channels. If you're looking for a cable substitute, FuboTV might fit the bill.
- Access to 12 regional sports networks
- Access to the most league-specific channels
- No TNT or TBS
FYI: you may want to purchase an Android TV box before you start streaming your favorite sports games.
Best for Unlimited DVR: YouTube TV
YouTube TV is another streaming platform that positions itself as an alternative to cable. Like Hulu, you'll get a slew of non-sports-related content. In terms of sports, subscribers get access to all of the major broadcast networks and a bunch of cable offerings, such as several ESPN channels, FS1, FS2, and more. YouTube TV's sports get complicated with all of the optional add-ons. You can, however, get things like NBA League Pass and Fox Soccer Plus for an extra monthly fee. Most importantly, YouTube TV boasts unlimited cloud storage, so you can record live games and watch them at a time that works for you.
- Good option to replace cable
- Unlimited cloud storage to record games
- Somewhat confusing optional add-on packages
Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) has a lot of content. However, it focuses more on entertainment than sports. Regarding sports-specific content, the platform live streams your local CBS channel, which means subscribers can watch local NFL games, NCAA March Madness, and some PGA Tour events. Unfortunately, you cannot stream if your local CBS affiliate is not available on the platform's free tier. Therefore, we can't recommend Paramount+ for sports fans, as it doesn't offer anything you can't get somewhere else.
Related: learn whether Netflix or Amazon Prime Video is a better choice for you.
Amazon Prime Video
Prime Video has a patchwork of sports options available to subscribers. NFL Thursday Night Football streams exclusively through Amazon Prime. The same goes for 17 regular-season WNBA games. Beyond that, you can add "channels" like MLB.TV to Prime, but these separate services require an additional subscription fee. Prime allows you to access these platforms through the Prime app instead of switching to a different app. Despite these shortcomings, Amazon has made it known that they are interested in live sports. With Amazon's deep pockets, it is definitely a platform to watch.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a regional sports network?
A regional sports network is a television channel that provides sports programming for a specific geographic region or locality. This means that you will see coverage for a team(s) that is located in your region. For example, if you live in the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) and are a baseball fan, you'll see coverage of New York Yankees and New York Mets.
Unfortunately, if you're a fan of a team outside of your area, you're not going to be able to see many of their games, if any. This makes platforms that give access to all regional sports networks desirable, as you do not have to be in a specific location to enjoy games.
Do I need a streaming service to watch sports?
It really depends on what you want to watch. All of the major sports leagues in the U.S. (MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL) air on national television. NFL fans have the most options, with most local games broadcast on the major networks. If you are a big sports fan and want more options than what broadcast television is giving you, you'll probably want to opt for one of the services above.
Should I opt for a dedicated streaming service?
Most leagues have a dedicated streaming service. For example, if you only care about the NFL, then you can opt for a subscription to NFL Game Pass. This can be significantly cheaper than shelling out for one of the platforms mentioned above. These dedicated platforms often delay the availability of games until after they have aired. Therefore, if you want to watch games live, they may not be the best option.
How can I watch sports for free?
Professional sports are big business, so unfortunately, the words "free" and "sports" rarely go together. Yet, there are platforms like PlutoTV that have dedicated sports channels. These channels often show highlights of games, programs that focus on game analysis, and sports docuseries.
Alternately, you an get an over-the-air antenna. All of the major sports leagues in the U.S. show games over broadcast TV. Therefore, if all you want to do is catch your local teams, an antenna will do it. Granted, you won't have access to every game, but if you're a casual fan, broadcast TV might give you your sports fix. And the best part is it is 100% free.
Image credit: Pexels
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