Cable without satellite
Cable and satellite television providers hook consumers on convenience. One box with one remote – all you have to do is turn on the television and everything is there. You can flip through hundreds of channels, fire up the DVR or browse their catalog of on-demand offerings. These viewing habits become so entrenched, so second nature, that blowing it all up in favor of a more à la carte model can be intimidating. Even more so for sports fans, who feel wedded to cable and satellite out of fear of missing the action.
In 2015, I ditched my cable subscription out of curiosity. Could the average sports fan still have a satisfactory television experience with an over-the-air antenna and apps? Turns out football without a traditional bundle is easier than you might have thought.
Fans of Power Five college football can watch most of their games
Big-brand college football will always be available the old fashion way: with an antenna.
ABC, CBS and FOX will carry marquee late afternoon and primetime games featuring programs from the ACC, SEC, B1G, Big 12 and PAC 12. Notre Dame will be on NBC seven times this season, including five contests against ACC opponents. Meanwhile, matchups that are lower in the broadcast pecking order can be found on local television affiliates of the ACC Network such as WRAL (parent company of this fine website).
As for the ESPN and FOX family of networks, they're now available on "over-the-top" internet streaming services Sling TV and PlayStation Vue. Both are available on a variety of streaming devices such as Amazon's Fire TV and Roku, but only Sling TV is on Apple TV.
Sling TV recently split their programming packages in an attempt to give consumers more choice. The "Orange" package includes ESPN and ESPN2 for $20 a month. Throwing down an additional $5 a month for the "Sports Extra" tier gives fans access to ESPNU, SEC Network, ESPNEWS and ESPN Goal Line. The "Blue" package includes FS1, FOX regional sports networks and Comcast Sports Network for $25. Sling TV will give you access to all their channels for $40 a month.
PlayStation Vue's "Core" package includes ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, SEC Network, FS1, FS2, FOX regional, and the Big Ten Network for $34.99 a month.
Sling TV and PlayStation Vue subscriptions also include WatchESPN credentials.
If you're a college football completist, a fan who obsessively watches as many games as possible from the Power Five to the fringes of the Sun Belt, not having cable or satellite will have drawbacks. Fans can go deep into their over-the-air channel lineup to find the American Sports Network for select "Group of Five" contests, but access to CBS Sports Network and the PAC 12 Network through their respective streaming apps are only possible with a television provider login.
So if your favorite team ends up on one of those networks on a random Saturday, use the money you're saving without cable to bring a case of beer to a friend's place or support a local sports bar.
HD antenna crucial for NFL
In comparison to college football, watching the NFL without a traditional cable or satellite bundle is plain sailing and most fans will be satisfied with their over-the-air offerings.
Consider the 1 p.m. kickoff typically features your local team and a regionally appropriate contest on CBS and FOX, while the late afternoon brings attention to a bigger matchup carried to most of the country. NBC features the national game of the week in primetime.
As another example, look at the the Carolina Panthers schedule. They'll play on FOX, CBS or NBC for 15 of their 16 games this upcoming season. The cable-only exception arrives on Dec. 19 when the Panthers visit the Washington Redskins for the "Josh Norman Bowl" on ESPN.
If you're already subscribed to Sling TV or PlayStation Vue for college football, you're good to go for ESPN's Monday Night Football games.
Thursday Night Football will split 10 games between NBC and CBS, while the remaining eight will be broadcast exclusively on the NFL Network. But don't sweat it thinking you'll miss the action once the games move to league's channel, since the NFL Network is now available on Sling TV and PlayStation Vue.
Twitter gets in the game
Twitter will stream the 10 Thursday Night Football games broadcast by CBS and NBC this season, offering fans a way to watch games without cable/satellite authentication.
However, it's unclear how Twitter will implement the broadcasts on their service as of this writing. Twitter used Wimbledon to experiment with live video earlier this year, but the experience was limited to a pinned "live" page with a small broadcast window and the ability to tweet about the event as it happened.
Twitter is also negotiating with Apple to bring their app to Apple TV before the start of the season, allowing fans to watch the stream on their big screens instead of a phone.
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