Watching sports online: How each league’s streaming options stack up

The NBA Playoffs began this weekend. I’d be excited to watch them, but I am unable to. My house has long objected to cable television, instead focusing on Netflix and other streaming media. That means the NBA Playoffs, which will air mostly on cable stations, are out of reach for us.

You might assume that the NBA markets a product to stream its playoffs online. I would happily pay $20 or more for that privilege. Surprisingly, no plan exists. More surprisingly, the NBA’s online strategy mirrors that for most other sports.

Despite ever-greater popularity and revenue, online plans for some major sports are still stuck in the last decade. Here’s a look at how each sport has adapted to the Internet – and in many cases – how they haven’t.


The NBA airs many games online via its League Pass service. Two versions of this season-long plan are offered: a $49 “Premium” plan providing access to games from all 30 teams, and a $24 “Choice” plan providing access to games from five teams which you choose. Though affordable, the NBA’s online plan has annoying problems: broadcast blackouts and a surprising lack of playoff coverage.

watching sports online how each leagues streaming options stack up nba

A blackout is when a broadcast is not aired in a certain market for contractual or other reasons. Because of League Pass’s blackout rules, games for the team in your local market — likely, your favorite team — will often not be available online. Nationally-aired games are blacked out too. So, League Pass will let you watch basketball online — just not the games you most-likely want to watch.

Worse, none of the NBA playoffs are broadcast on League Pass. Portions of the 2011 playoffs were shown on ESPN3 and TNT’s Overtime Extra, but these sites are only available on certain ISPs. Shockingly, ABC provided no live online-viewing option for the 2011 NBA Finals, instead replaying games hours later on ESPN3. The NBA, one of the most digital-friendly professional sports, lacked a plan for airing it’s most important content online in real-time.

Bottom Line: League Pass Broadband may be the most affordable online plan provided by the major sports. However, providing no legal way to watch the NBA Finals online is a terrible error. All in all, the NBA’s online offering is fair, but only because those for other league’s are worse in comparison.


The NFL’s best regular-season product, NBC’s excellent Sunday Night Football, is broadcast live online for free. But you’re out of luck if you want to watch other live football online before the playoffs.

watching sports online how each leagues streaming options stack up nfl

The NFL offers what appears to be a strong online plan with Game Pass product — but you can’t watch it if you live in the United States. (You know, where American Football is popular.) Game Pass is exclusively an international product. US fans get Game Rewind instead, where a monthly $14.99 fee (during the off-season) earns you “on-demand online video access to NFL games after they have aired on broadcast television.” According to the fine print, the NFL’s Sunday games don’t air on Game Rewind until late on Sunday night, which means you’ll likely have to wait until Monday to watch your team play.

The NFL makes up for it’s lackluster regular-season plan with a great post-season policy. In 2011, all of the league’s playoff games, including the Super Bowl, were aired online via and Further, more games will be aired online during the league’s next TV contract, which will run from 2014 to 2022 and grants all networks but CBS Internet rights.

Bottom Line: The NFL’s highest-quality products — Sunday Night Football and the playoffs — air online free-of-charge. This and the expectation for more live coverage in the future make the NFL a leader online.


Major League Baseball’s MLB.TV is forward-looking, but comes with many restrictions. Two plans are offered: a $19.99 monthly plan which allows only web viewing and a $24.95 monthly premium plan which also allows viewing on Xbox 360, iOS and some Android devices. Season-long passes are $109.95 and $124.95, respectively.

watching sports online how each leagues streaming options stack up mlb 

Baseball’s blackout rules are more stringent than the NBA’s. On MLB.TV, a game will be blacked-out if:

  • you are within the TV market served by either of the teams playing,
  • you live in Canada and the Toronto Blue Jays are one of the teams playing,
  • you live in the U.S. Territories of Guam or U.S. Virgin Islands.

Those are just the weekday, regular season rules. Weekend games are blacked-out for the entire United States and only air as an “archived game” more than an hour after the game concludes. Further, all post-season games are blacked out in The United States, Canada, and several other markets, though they are similarly available later as archived games. MLB also has a “Postseason.TV” product which airs “live alternative video feeds” from playoff games, but not the actual broadcast feed.

Bottom line: Higher prices and more blackouts, but it’s nice that replays are so thoroughly available. Less live action puts MLB behind the NBA, but only slightly.


The National Hockey League’s GameCenter Live is similar to the MLB’s and NBA’s plans, suffering the same blackout problems that plague its competitors.

watching sports online how each leagues streaming options stack up nhl

“By becoming a subscriber to NHL GameCenter LIVE,” the league advertises, “you will get access to live out-of-market game broadcasts.” So, like League Pass and MLB.TV, GameCenter LIVE broadcasts a ton of sports action — just probably not your favorite team’s games. GameCenter Live is also not available for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Instead, the NHL markets GameCenter Premium, which offers “live radio broadcasts through the end of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.”

Bottom line: Hockey fans who live for the greater stakes and intensity of playoff hocket are out of luck. Calling an audio-only stream “premium” is silly if the “regular” streaming plan offers video. The NHL easily offers the worst online viewing options of all four major sports.

Luckily, there’s still piracy

Archaic online plans are even more enraging in light of the ever-improving illegal stream economy. Anyone can find a live stream of the sporting event they want to watch — and pirates don’t respect broadcast blackouts. Professional leagues will continue to leave dollars on the table until they provide streaming products competitive with those being offered illegally.

Because I know where I can go to watch my Colt’s lose in real-time. You probably know what site to visit to watch your favorite team, too. All the DMCA takedowns in the world won’t matter until the major sports wise-up and realize this.


Chromebook keyboard showcase may have leaked Pixelbook 2 images

As we approach Google's #madebygoogle event taking place in early October, new rumors and leaks for a possible Pixelbook 2 are appearing online. This latest one may show what the rumored Nocturne design will look like.
Movies & TV

How to watch NFL games online, with or without cable

The NFL's 2018 season is here, and we know you don't want to miss a moment of the action. Our comprehensive streaming guide will show you all the best options to watch the games online so you can make the right choice.

Newegg was cracked, customer data has leaked, and security is clearly scrambled

Online electronics retailer Newegg has found themselves at the heart of an online security breach as the company's payment system was breached, giving hackers of the notorious group, Magecart, potential access to confidential customer data…

‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ online mode gallops into open beta in November

Red Dead Redemption 2's online mode, Red Dead Online, won't be available when the game launches October 26, but you won't have to wait long. Red Dead Online, which takes cues from Grand Theft Auto Online, enters open beta in November.

The Google Pixel 3 smartphone may arrive dressed in pink

Forget the Pixel 2: Google will announce its latest flagships, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, on October 9 in New York City and Paris. Here's everything we know about the upcoming Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.

How T-Mobile plans to use 5G to challenge traditional ISPs

In a recent FCC statement, T-Mobile COO Michael Sievert outlined the company's plans to use 5G to challenge traditional ISPs such as Comcast and Charter. The company says it would offer lower rates and higher speeds.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Click-to-brew beer, comfy headlamps, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

The best iPhone XR screen protectors to keep that big screen safe

The iPhone XR is Apple's midsized iPhone, and it's worth protecting. You might have picked up a case, but what about the screen? Keep your display safe with the best iPhone XR screen protectors.

Never run out of data (or money) with the best unlimited data plans of 2018

Sorting though unlimited plans isn't exactly a walk in the park. We've compared the best unlimited data plans from Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon to help you decide which one is best for you.

Armani Exchange’s smartwatch is for those who want their tech to be dapper

Armani is back with another Google Wear OS touchscreen smartwatch, and this time it's from the Armani Exchange division, making it stylish, modern, and affordable. There's plenty of technology inside too.

The iPhone XS and XS Max survive being dunked in 138 cans of beer

Apple's special event is over, and we were introduced to the new iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR. Here's everything we know about the 2018 iPhone trio, from their cameras to release dates.

Apple iPhone XS vs. Sony Xperia XZ3: Which is the best phone for you?

What happens when one of Apple's best clashes with one of Sony's top performers? We're here to find out as we pit the iPhone XS against the Xperia XZ3 in various categories. Find out which of these smartphones will suit you best.

MetroPCS is now Metro by T-Mobile and includes Amazon Prime

Looking for a great prepaid phone plan? MetroPCS is now Metro by T-Mobile, and the veteran carrier is promising to provide a variety of prepaid phone plans that offer great value for money, and access to Google One and Amazon Prime.

Apple purchases Shazam and makes the app free of ads

Soon after Apple announced it was acquiring music-recognition service Shazam, it was revealed that the European Commission would be looking into the deal. The commission has now cleared the way for Apple's acquisition of Shazam.