Still Not Enough Options for Sports Fans to Cut the Cord from Cable Yet

Major League Baseball has been on the forefront of streaming sports for some time and they make it easier (if not cheaper) than anyone.
Major League Baseball has been on the forefront of streaming sports for some time and they make it easier (if not cheaper) than anyone. Photo by Jack Gorman
Make no mistake, professional (and collegiate) sports generate the majority of their revenue through television deals. Networks recognize the captive, narrow demographic is attractive to advertisers and it rarely gets in the way of other programming. For networks and sports leagues, it's win-win.

But, ever so slowly, streaming video and audio has been seeping into sports programming. There are some who argue that the next massive broadcast deals for sports leagues will be with services that provide streaming options. Some already do. But, is it enough for those who don't want to pay for cable or satellite TV services? Probably not.

Incredulous TV watchers who aren't sports fans often can't fathom why, with the huge number of options available to anyone with a decent wifi connection (or even a good cellular network). And while it is true that there are tons of ways to access content from Netflix and Apple TV to Amazon and Hulu, none so far solves the problem for sports enthusiasts. (It could be argued that if you like shows on network TV, it doesn't really even fix that given the cost of broadcast streaming services or the need for, God help you, an antenna, but that's for another time.)

Plenty of articles have been written by gung-ho cord cutters about how anyone can see any game if they just make a little effort. Well, that depends on your definition of "a little" and your skills when it comes to technology.

The most basic is the antenna, which will get you all the networks. That is sufficient for watching local pro football, so long as it isn't a national game on ESPN. This also gives you access to NASCAR, the PGA Tour (most of the majors anyway) and nationally televised NBA, MLB and college sports.

Then there are add-on networks that allow streaming of various leagues, typically paid for at a premium. Major League Baseball has long been on the forefront of streaming services, but MLB.TV is between $85 and $115 depending on if you just want to follow one or all teams. While that only adds up to about $10 per month at most, that JUST for baseball, nothing else.

NFL is opening up new options, including streaming games for free on platforms like Yahoo and others. But, blackout restrictions can make it difficult to watch games in different markets regardless of whether the stream is available or not.

Then, there's the NBA. There are services that stream regional sports networks and allow for access to most local team games. But, for those without regional sports network deals (the Rockets chief among them), there are very few ways to get games unless you are basically a hacker.

Also, keep in mind that if you are a fan of multiple sports, you'll need to have several different services to gain access to all of them, and there is typically a charge for each. That can add up quickly.

Without question, sports leagues understand the future of broadcast is streaming and they will eventually get to the point where games will be as easy to access as any TV series. Amazon has already begun to position itself with the streaming of Thursday Night Football on its platform, and Hulu has upped the ante by providing access to regional sports networks and networks like TNT and ESPN for live streaming.

But, at the moment, most fans prefer the simplicity of turning on a TV and changing a channel. And, in truth, that is unlikely to change in the immediate future.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke