- Sports streaming is big business already, with billions of dollars in revenue reported every year.
- Not every sport or league is available on any single service. You may have to pick and choose.
- The quality of the stream may depend on your internet service, so consider whether it’s up to the task.
It’s often said that sports are the final frontier of scheduled television. Just about everything else is available on demand, from the nightly news to your favorite TV sitcoms and dramas. But when your favorite team plays Thursday at 7:00, you’re probably sitting at your TV when the hour arrives.
At the same time, traditional cable TV packages continue their dramatic decline in popularity. A new generation of sports streaming services have filled in the gap. These services give users real-time access to sports events and come replete with features that elevate the viewing experience. This review highlights our picks for the best services for live sports.
Why Use a Sports Streaming Service?
Consumers are drawn to sports streaming services for many reasons. Some want to cut ties with cable providers without losing access to live events. Others are superfans who want complete access without purchasing individual packages from each of the major leagues. There are many other personality types and consumer profiles in between, but they all share a passion for sports.
Streaming services deliver access to live games, but with added bonuses. First, they get around the blackout restrictions common to league-based streaming services. Most major North American leagues restrict viewer access to in-market games until local TV broadcasts have ended. Among other perks, most sports streaming services also allow viewers to store games in the cloud for later viewing.
FuboTV originated as a streaming service for soccer fans. It still excels at delivering all the action of the world’s best soccer leagues, but it’s also expanded. As of 2021, FuboTV hosts more than 100 channels, including ESPN and the NFL Network.
New customers can give FuboTV a week-long tryout for free and with no obligation. The service also supports dozens of non-sports channels, giving it added value during downtime.
Pros and Cons
FuboTV has generous storage allowances. This makes it easy for viewers to catch all the action if they missed the game’s scheduled start time. U.S. viewers can watch both college and professional sports, and FuboTV allows household members to create separate user profiles.
On the downside, FuboTV has limited VPN compatibility. ExpressVPN is the only such service it supports as of October 2021. The platform is also light on parental controls for non-sports content.
Hulu + Live TV
Reviews generally acknowledge that FuboTV has the highest number of channels dedicated to sports programming. As of October 2021, the service supports 14 live sports channels. In addition, Hulu + Live TV is often cited as the leading option for sports fans who want a diversified experience.
Hulu + Live TV affords viewers the chance to bundle the core service with ESPN+ for a modest price upgrade. Few other streaming services offer comparable combined access to sports and entertainment content. If you’re looking for an all-in-one provider, Hulu merits a closer look.
Pros and Cons
On the plus side, Hulu allows budget-conscious customers to lower their monthly costs in exchange for allowing ads. This delivers enhanced price flexibility.
As for drawbacks, user access to some sports content is slightly limited. Regional viewers need to access many games through local channels, which the service supports. All other major networks and cable sports channels are included in Hulu packages. However, Hulu does not support NFL Network, NBA TV, or MLB Network as of October 2021.
YouTube TV is another strong option for viewers seeking an all-inclusive experience. It supports more than 85 live channels in addition to an impressive lineup of specialty sports content.
As of October 2021, YouTube TV customers get all four major U.S. networks. They also enjoy access to CBS Sports, NBC Sports, TNT, and four ESPN channels. In addition, YouTube TV links viewers to the NBA, NFL, and MLB networks along with niche channels for sports like golf and soccer.
Pros and Cons
YouTube TV provides unlimited cloud-based programming storage. Industry observers regularly characterize its storage capacity as the best in the business.
On the downside, viewers have a hard time escaping ads on YouTube TV. The service also offers limited on-demand access to TV shows and movies. It shines in certain regards, but its all-in-one diversity is a little lacking.
Sling TV’s claim to fame is its low price point. The service stands alone in offering customizable programming access. Fans are often happy just signing up for Sling Orange, the company’s specialized service for sports content.
Reviewers also note that Sling TV provides a seamless streaming experience. It works best with reliable broadband internet, but video quality is still good even with a leaner connection.
Pros and Cons
Sling TV’s top advantages relate to its price point and customization options. It is frequently touted as the best option for consumers who want to cut the cord without spending a fortune.
However, this advantage comes with a considerable drawback. Sling TV forces sports fans to make tricky decisions, as its standard package does not include ESPN. You’ll get ESPN access with Sling Orange, but you will lose NBC, NBC Sports Network, and the NFL Network. You can sign up for Sling Orange + Blue if you want both, but that’ll bump up the monthly cost quite a bit.
ESPN+ earns inclusion in this list mainly for its very affordable price point. Priced at just $6.99 per month as of October 2021, the service is ideal for budget-conscious sports fans. If ESPN broadcasts your favorite leagues and teams, the price can’t be beat.
The main downside is that ESPN+ doesn’t include live access to some major-league games. You can work around this limitation by bundling ESPN+ with other streaming services. However, this will also raise your monthly costs.
Pros and Cons
ESPN+ shines for its affordable pricing. Consumers enjoy complete access to its core content for a very modest monthly fee.
However, beware if you’re an NFL or NBA fan as live games aren’t available. That said, you can watch some live MLB and NHL games, along with soccer and U.S. college sports. ESPN+ also doesn’t offer DVR storage, which limits your options to catch up on games you missed.
More Streaming Options for Live Sports
Sports fans have other options when it comes to streaming services. Honorable mention goes to DirecTV Stream. This service also offers extensive access to sports content, albeit at a higher price point.
It’s best to take a test drive before committing to a sports streaming service. Many of these services make it easy to opt out, as few of them require long-term contracts. Even so, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and effort by trying out a service before formally signing up.