Live sports coverage is a huge draw for cable subscribers, but you can get the same content, if not more, from a dedicated streaming service. Although some on-demand video streaming services include occasional sports commentary shows, the best options for sports fanatics are the cable-replacement services that offer game streams from local, national, and international networks.
What Channels Do I Need to Watch Sports?
The first thing to consider when choosing a sports streaming service is which one has the channels you need to watch the sports you care about.
NFL fans still have the easiest job. All NFL games air on local broadcast affiliates (CBS, FOX, or NBC), ESPN, or Prime Video, which means you don’t have to deal with regional sports networks (RSNs) to watch every game available to you. However, the games that air on your local broadcast affiliates will almost always feature local teams; if you are a fan of an out-of-market team, the NFL’s Game Pass and DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket are your best options. Other sports programming such as PGA Tour events (CBS, Golf Channel, or NBC) and NASCAR races (FOX, FS1, NBC, or NBC Sports Network) also air on national channels.
Some MLB, NBA, and NHL games air on national channels, too; for example, you can watch NBA games on ABC, TNT, or ESPN. That said, many of the games from these leagues air on RSNs owned by Sinclair (Bally Sports, previously known as FOX Sports), Comcast (NBC Sports), or AT&T (SportsNet). Currently, AT&T TV is the only service we’ve reviewed that includes RSNs from each of these owners, though fuboTV, Hulu + Live TV, and YouTube TV all offer NBC Sports RSNs. Which RSNs you need to watch sports in your market depends on your location. Check out each RSN’s listing page to see which teams they cover.
League-Specific and International Sports
Many individual sports leagues offer dedicated streaming services. NBA League Pass, NFL Game Pass, NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL.TV, and MLB.TV are the best-known examples. If you only care about watching a specific team or sport, you don’t need to pay for an entire cable replacement service. Many of these services restrict your viewing of games until after they air in their entirety on regular channels or to out-of market games, however, so most aren’t ideal for sports fans who want to watch their local team’s drama unfold live.
Many of the services we reviewed offer major sports channels for international markets, such as BEIN, ESPN Deportes, Fox Deportes, and Univision Deportes, but some require you to subscribe to extra packages for more regional and international sports content.
Dazn, on the other hand, is better for users in international markets (such as Germany, Switzerland, Japan, and Italy) who want to watch mainstream US sports. However, for US subscribers, it offers a mix of Boxing, MMA, and MLB content.
Live Sports vs. Sports Content
Presumably, most sports fans want to watch both live sports and sports-related programs. However, we restricted this roundup to those services that regularly stream live sports events. After all, there’s no point in cutting the cord if you can’t watch your favorite teams live. Sports commentary and shows about sports certainly add value, but they don’t alone qualify a service as a sports streaming service.
For those reasons, HBO Max does not make the list, despite its historical association with boxing and current high-quality sports shows, such as Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Hard Knocks, and Ballers. That could change, however, as the service may stream live NHL games as soon as next year. Starz also does not qualify, as it requires you to pay extra to watch its live streaming MMA content. Amazon Prime Video, on the other hand, streams Thursday Night Football games during the regular season and select MLB games in the New York region, so it makes the cut.
Just as with cable broadcasts, streaming services are subject to coverage blackouts, so it’s a good idea to find a service with both RSNs and local broadcast affiliates, in case one outbids the other for broadcast rights.
More Than Sports
While the focus of this roundup is on sports content, these services do not exist in a bubble. Monthly subscription costs can add up, and there’s a good chance that not everyone in your household wants to watch sports exclusively. Many of these options cost upwards of $60 per month, depending on the package you choose, while add-ons can easily push that monthly price even higher.
Therefore, you should consider whether the service offers value for anyone else in your household. Most of the best sports streaming services are also some of the best for general audiences, with good lineups of news and entertainment programming.
That said, some video streaming services, such as ESPN+ and Dazn, primarily focus on sports content. Amazon Prime Video, Paramount+, and Peacock, which are primarily on-demand services, offer large libraries of shows and movies to stream in addition to their live sports content. Hulu + Live TV also gives users access to a vast library of TV series and films.
Streaming Extras and Limitations
Sometimes sports coverage, and particularly international sports coverage, doesn’t air at a convenient time. If you can’t watch the game for whatever reason, finding a service with good DVR functionality is worthwhile. Many video streaming services offer a specified number of hours you can record (some offer unlimited recording), which you can keep in storage for a set amount of time or until you stop paying for your subscription. However, no service we reviewed currently allows you to take those recordings offline, as some on-demand video streaming services allow.
What if two programs are airing at the same time and neither person wants to watch a recorded version later? If you make sure that the video streaming service you pick supports simultaneous streaming, then this won’t be a problem. Most services in the category support at least two simultaneous streams, but many services offer add-ons that increase that limit for an extra monthly fee.
One disadvantage of streaming services is that the picture quality may not always be as consistent as that of cable. The upper streaming resolution is dependent on the broadcast itself, so you may occasionally find games or channels that are limited to 720p. To get smooth 1080p streaming, you also need to make sure that your internet connection reaches a service’s minimum bandwidth requirement. Hulu + Live TV, Paramount+, and YouTube TV are among the services we tested that support up to 1080p/60fps streams on select platforms. Streaming at 4K resolution requires even more bandwidth (as well as a compatible device) and few services even support that resolution. fuboTV is one exception: It broadcasts some events in 4K.
Alternatives to Sports Streaming Services
Not all sports events require a subscription to watch them online. Major sports events such as the Super Bowl or The Masters are typically free to stream online. You can also purchase a TV antenna to get free over-the-air local channels, though the number and quality of said channels may vary wildly based on your location.
Yes, there are illegal options too. For example, there’s likely a sketchy subreddit (if it hasn’t already been shut down) or sports streaming site with several dozen hosted links for whatever sport and event you want to watch. We do not condone the use of these sites.