Regional Sports Networks: the basics
Regional sports networks are the (traditionally) cable television channels that cater to a local market. There are dozens of them across Fox Sports Networks, NBC Sports Regional Networks, AT&T Sports Networks, Spectrum Sports, and some independent regional sports networks.
The important part about these networks is that they have broadcast rights for the NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, WNBA, college sports, and more. And even if you splurge on a premium package like NBA League Pass, you can count on a blackout if you’re trying to watch a team in your viewing area.
For instance, in Los Angeles, lacking access to the four regional sports networks means you’re missing out on several local teams:
|Fox Sports West||Angels||Kings|
|Fox Sports Prime Ticket||Clippers||Ducks|
|Spectrum SportsNet LA||Dodgers|
Before you purchase any TV service, you can check on your regional sports networks to make sure the provider offers them in your area.
Should You Get an HD Antenna?
An HD antenna is an inexpensive option for digital TV signals in your area. Depending on your location, you could net 10 to 20 or more channels, most notably standard local channels like ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox.
That’s relevant to sports packages because some internet-based services can be hit-and-miss with local channels. Some services in some locations lack those four major networks, and that’s a big deal for some games and events.
If your streaming service of choice doesn’t have all of the local stations in your area, supplement it with an inexpensive, easy-to-hide indoor antenna to ensure you get those channels. The Federal Communications Commission has DTV reception maps to check available signals for your location.
Streaming services sports access comparison
Here’s a breakdown of the major streaming services currently available, and how they stack up when it comes to sports.
Be sure to check out the comparison table below for a side-by-side look at their channel lineups, DVR options, and more.
Hulu + Live TV offers 65+ channels for $64.99/month. That includes local networks in a lot of locations, Hulu Originals, and a solid selection of sports channels. You’ll get regional sports networks if you live in a market with NBC Sports Regional Networks — NBC Sports Bay Area, Boston, California, Chicago, Northwest, Philadelphia, Washington — and SportsNet NY is also offered by Hulu.
A unique aspect of Hulu + Live TV is the available bundle with Disney+ and ESPN+ for $72.99/month.
- Price: $64.99/month
- Regional Sports Networks: Only if you’re local to one of the NBC Sports Regional Networks or SportsNet NY.
- Channels: 65+ channels and Hulu’s library of shows. Sports highlights include Fox Sports 1 and 2, NBC Sports Network, Golf Channel, and college sports channels like ACC Network, Big Ten Network, SEC Network, ESPNU, and CBS Sports Network. It doesn’t have MLB Network, NBA TV, NHL Network, and other specialty networks you might want.
- Stream Limit: Two simultaneous streams. You can upgrade to unlimited screens at home (and three on mobile) for $9.99/month.
- DVR: There are 50 hours on the cloud DVR, but you can’t skip ads without the add-on, which is $9.99/month and brings the total hours to 200.
- Best For: College sports fans, sports fans who want to take advantage of the bundle with Disney+ and ESPN+, and those interested in Hulu’s library of content.
YouTube TV Regional Sports
YouTube TV offers 85+ channels for $64.99/month. It has local networks in most locations and an impressive selection of sports channels (plus there’s a sports add-on for $10.99/month). Like Hulu + Live TV, you’ll get regional sports networks if you live in a market with NBC Sports Regional Networks — NBC Sports Bay Area, Boston, California, Chicago, Northwest, Philadelphia, Washington — and SportsNet NY is also offered by YouTube TV.
Their DVR is the best of all cord-cutting services.
- Regional Sports Networks: Only if you’re local to one of the NBC Sports Regional Networks or SportsNet NY.
- Channels: 85+ channels. Sports highlights include MLB Network, NBA TV, NFL Network, Fox Sports 1 and 2, NBC Sports Network, Golf Channel, and college sports channels like ACC Network, Big Ten Network, ESPNU, and CBS Sports Network. The YouTube TV Sports Plus package ($10.99/month extra) adds seven networks, including NFL RedZone, Fox College Sports, and Fox Soccer Plus. YouTube TV doesn’t offer NHL Network.
- Stream Limit: Three devices.
- DVR: Unlimited recordings with skippable commercials. That includes personalized DVR for family members, and each recording can be saved for nine months.
- Best For: Most sports fans who don’t mind missing out on their regional sports networks or happen to live in one of the local areas served by the provider. Even without the sports add-on, there are a compelling number of sports channels for a service at this price level.
Sling TV Regional Sports
Sling TV offers 30+ or 40+ channels with their Orange ($35/month) and Blue ($35/month) plans, respectively, or both for $50/month. No local channels are offered and no regional sports networks are offered except for three on Sling Blue (NBC Sports Bay Area, California, and Washington).
You’ll miss out on sports channels if you go with either Orange or Blue alone; combining them gets you a decent selection (and there’s a sports add-on for $11/month).
- Sling TV: Streaming Service Highlights
- Price: $50/month or $35/month for either Orange or Blue
- Regional Sports Networks: Only NBC Sports Bay Area, California, and Washington with Sling Blue.
- Channels: 40+ on the combined plan. Sports highlights include ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3 on Orange, and Fox Sports 1, NBC Sports Network, and NFL Network on Blue, which is a tough choice to split if you’re aiming for a $35/month plan. Either plan or the combined plan can be added for $11/month, granting 10+ channels like NBA TV, MLB Network, MLB Network Strike Zone, NHL Network, and college sports channels like ACC Network, SEC Network, and PAC-12 Network. There aren’t any major omissions on the combined level with the sports add-on.
- Stream Limit: Four on the combined plan. Three with Blue and one with Orange.
- DVR: You’ll get 50 hours of included DVR storage, with the option to upgrade to 200 hours for $5/month.
- Best For: Sports fans who either want a few basic channels to spend up on a premium pass, or those who want a surprisingly good selection of sports channels on the combined plan plus the sports add-on ($61/month). Consumers will need a plan for local channels.
FuboTV offers 100+ channels on their Starter ($64.99/month) and Elite ($79.99/month) plans, including 4K streams. It offers local networks in most locations and a slightly longer list of regional sports networks than the other major cord-cutting services: NBC Sports Regional Networks (Bay Area, Boston, California, Chicago, Northwest, Philadelphia, Washington) plus AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh, AT&T Sportsnet Southwest, MSG, NESN, and SportsNet NY.
One major knock against fuboTV is no TBS and TNT. They have a wide range of sports channels, as well two sports add-ons (Sports Plus with NFL RedZone for $10.99/month and International Sports Plus for $6.99/month).
- Price: $64.99/month (Starter) or $79.99/month (Elite)
- Regional Sports Networks: Only NBC Sports Regional Networks, AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh, AT&T Sportsnet Southwest, MSG, NESN, and SportsNet NY.
- Channels: 100+ channels. Sports highlights include ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and 2, NHL Network, and Big 10 Network, among other expected channels. The add-ons are intriguing, with Sports Plus with NFL RedZone ($10.99/month) adding that channel as well as channels like NBA TV, NHL Network, MLB Network, Fight Network, and a suite of Pac-12 Networks. International Sports Plus ($6.99/month) adds channels like ESPN and Fox Deportes, Zona Futbol, Fox Soccer Plus, Eleven Sports. FuboTV doesn’t have TBS and TNT.
- Stream Limit: Two devices. One additional device (three total) costs $5.99/month and the Unlimited Screens add-on brings the total to 10 devices at home, plus two on mobile, for $9.99/month.
- DVR: You’ll get 250 hours of included storage on the Starter plan and 1,000 hours on the Elite plan.
- Best For: Non MLB/NBA fans (with no TBS/TNT) who are interested in a diverse amount of sports options. There’s such a variety here that will make it appealing to many sports fans. That’s especially true for fans of hard-to-find sports — at least in the world of streaming TV providers — like soccer, boxing, and international and college sports.
How to watch out-of-market games without cable
If you’re a one-sport household, selecting a streaming service for sports TV is a lot easier — particularly for out-of-market games.
Here’s a breakdown on each of the major professional sports leagues including the NFL, NBA, and NHL:
How to watch NFL without cable
If you need NFL Sunday Ticket, DirecTV Stream is a popular option. It's no longer exclusive to this platform though, and in 2023 it can also be accessed via some streaming platforms including YouTube TV.
- For cord-cutting services, look at YouTube TV, fuboTV, and Sling TV, which all offer NFL Network in their base package. All three also offer NFL Red Zone (showing major moments from all games), but with their sports add-on packages, which are all priced at about $11/month. AT&T's "DirecTV Stream" service doesn’t have NFL Network or NFL Red Zone.
- Cable companies all have NFL access, but you often have to upgrade your plan or pay extra to get it. For example, Spectrum has NFL Network on the Silver plan but only Red Zone on the add-on; you can get both by doing the Select plan and doing the Spectrum sports package.
Keep in mind that NFL is probably the only major sport that you can watch a lot with only your basic channels. Local networks and ESPN alone let you catch a full slate of games; you’ll only miss out-of-market Sunday games and those hosted on NFL Network.
One of the YouTube TV/fuboTV/ Sling TV trio is a good option. YouTube TV is hard to beat overall.
How to watch MLB without cable
The MLB.TV premium package for $129.99/year is a great value for out-of-market games. Local games will be carried by regional sports networks, so you’ll want to pay attention to providers that offer them in your area — either Spectrum/DirecTV Stream for most locations, or popular cord-cutting services for select locations.
Beyond a channel like ESPN, which is offered almost everywhere, you’ll want to pay attention to TBS and MLB Network. FuboTV doesn’t offer TBS, so that’s probably a deal-breaker. MLB Network is on Spectrum Silver, YouTube TV, Sling TV’s add-on, and FuboTV’s add-on. Spectrum’s sports package adds MLB Strike Zone.
YouTube TV and DirecTV Stream are the winners here. Go with the former for all-around value and the latter for regional sports networks without fees.
How to watch NBA without cable
NBA League Pass is $199.99/year for the main plan, and probably worth it for many die-hard fans to watch out-of-market games. In-market games will be with regional sports networks.
Beyond a channel like ESPN, the focus is NBA TV, which hosts a decent number of games throughout the week and offers other programming. It’s on Spectrum Silver, AT&T Choice, YouTube TV, Sling TV’s add on, fuboTV’s add-on — but fuboTV lacks TNT, which is a deal-breaker for NBA fans.
YouTube TV is a good value and DirecTV Stream is the play for regional sports networks.
How to watch NHL without cable
NHL.TV for $144.99/year for the main plan, and it’s a good value for getting out-of-market games. In-market games will be with regional sports networks.
You’ll want to pay attention to what services carry NBC Sports Network and NHL Network. Those are both on Spectrum Silver, Sling TV (Blue or combined) with the add-on, and fuboTV with the add-on.
There’s no clear winner for most NHL fans as they offer such varied advantages and disadvantages. It depends on whether you need regional sports networks (Spectrum/DirecTV Stream for most people) and then, if you’re up for a cord-cutting services, whether you like Sling TV or fuboTV more.
How to watch international and college sports without cable
Take a close look at fuboTV if you’re a fan of soccer, boxing, and international and college sports. Their two add-on sports packages give you access to some channels that plenty of cable and satellite providers don’t offer, or at least not for an exorbitant price.
College sports fans can also check out the other three popular cord-cutting services on the list. Through base or add-on packages, you’ll find a lot of good college sports networks, and with a service like Hulu + Live TV offering the Disney+/ESPN+ package, you can watch a lot of games that might otherwise be hard to find.
Summary of Sports Access for Each Major TV Package
Selecting the right sports TV provider largely comes down to deciding what your must-have channels and networks are, and finding the cheapest option that has them.
The table below gives an overview of which streaming providers have regional sports networks, and what other sports they have unique access to, or are locked out of:
|TV Service||Regional Sports Networks||Unique Sports Packages||Missing Sports Channels|
|Hulu + Live TV||Limited||Disney+/ESPN+ bundle (+$7/month)||MLB Network, NBA TV, NHL Network|
|YouTube TV||Limited||$10.99/month Sports Plus||NHL Network|
|Sling TV Combined||Limited||$11/month Sports Extra||No local channels;no major omissions with the sports package|
|FuboTV||Limited||$10.99/month Sports Plus with NFL Red Zone and $6.99/month International Sports Plus||TBS and TNT|
|DirecTV Stream||Yes||None||No NFL Network/Red Zone with DirecTV Stream|
|DIRECTV Choice||Yes||NFL Sunday Ticket (~$300/free first year)||Fox Sports 2, NHL Network, and others in Ultimate (+$20-$50/month)|
|Spectrum Select||Yes||$5/month Sports Pack||ESPN2 and pro sports networks in Silver|
|Spectrum Silver||Yes||$5/month Sports Pack||Big Ten, NHL, Pac-12 Networks in Gold (+$15/month)|
Here’s a comparison of the pricing, fees, and DVR fine print for each of these networks:
|TV Service||Monthly Price||Other Fees?||Channels||DVR|
|Hulu + Live TV||$64.99||None||65+||50 hours and can't skip ads (200 hours for +$9.99/month)|
|YouTube TV||$64.99||None||85+||Unlimited (nine months)|
|Sling TV Combined||$50||None||40+||50 hours (200 hours for $5/month)|
|FuboTV||$64.99||None||100+||50 hours (200 hours for|
|DIRECTV Choice||102 ($64.99 for 12 months)||$9.99 regional sports fee**||185+||1 HD DVR included ($7/month for each additional device)|
|Spectrum Select||73.99 ($44.99 for 12 months)||At least $24.44/month*||125+||Add $4.99 (1) or $9.99 (2+) per month|
|Spectrum Silver||108.99 ($79.99 for 12 months)||At least $24.44/month*||175+||Add $4.99 (1) or $9.99 (2+) per month|
Advantages and Drawbacks of cord-cutting vs cable for sports content
The primary advantage of going with a cable company like Spectrum is the channels you’ll receive. Other streaming services like YouTube TV/Hulu/fuboTV simply can’t compete with the overall lineup and sports-specific channels, although there are exceptions depending on what sports you like. You also don’t need a strong internet connection with cable TV. (In fact, you can save on a bundle if you’re in the market for TV and internet services.)
There are also clear drawbacks with Spectrum and other pure cable companies. Pricing is by far the leading con here; you’ll simply pay more than leading streaming providers. Moreover, you can expect a wide range of fees and taxes that make a $44.99/month promo price turn into $75/month or more fairly easily. And after that promo period ends, you’ll have to pay a higher price. Sometimes you can call and get a better rate, but playing that “game” and dealing with confusing pricing in general can get frustrating.
Most cord-cutting services cost less than cable and have upfront pricing. Plus, you’ll avoid cable boxes by being able to watch TV on a supported device (like a smart TV, gaming console, streaming media player, or computer/mobile device). However, they lack regional sports networks, which are explained in detail in the next section. If you’re worried about setting up a cord-cutting service, that’s understandable, but it’s not more complicated than using an Amazon or Spotify account, and much easier than online banking. It’s fairly simple to do. You should be able to get a free trial to see if one is right for you.
DirecTV Stream is right in the middle. It’s a streaming service that approaches the cost of cable and has nearly the same channel selection as cable.
Overview: Cable vs IPTV vs Cord-Cutting
There’s a good chance you’ll find something you like for the price with a popular cord-cutting service. Providers like Hulu + Live TV, YouTube TV, Sling TV, and fuboTV offer something for every sports fan — including some regional sports networks in select areas — and it’s easy to keep it under that $80/month threshold.
DirecTV Stream has gone from a more-or-less traditional provider to a cord-cutting service. It still offers the impressive selection of a traditional provider, thanks to being one of the few companies willing to pay the high price of carrying regional sports fees. But, of course, you’ll have to pay for that privilege. Its lowest-priced plan is $84.99/month and is missing some notable sports channels present in the $94.99/month plan. There are few perks to DirecTV Stream beyond those important regional sports networks.
Among the major cable companies, Spectrum has the best channel selection of them all (except DIRECTV), for a price. Their lowest-priced plan plus the sports package is about $75/month for a year and then turns into around $105/month, and that’s with no frills (one HD box and no DVR). Plus you’ll miss out on obvious sports channels in the next plan that’s $25/month higher.
Comcast Xfinity has equivalent sports options, if they’re the cable company in your area. Some smaller cable companies like Cox and Mediacom struggle a bit when it comes to creating compelling sports packages.
Budget Strategies for Live Sports
Here are a few strategies for managing sports packages and your budget.
- Spend Up with Cable (Spectrum, Comcast) or DirecTV Stream: If you don’t need many extras, you should be able to keep your bill around or just under $100/month with either Spectrum or DirecTV Stream. You’ll get regional sports networks and a good selection of sports channels. Of course, if budget is even less of a concern, you can invest in a pricey TV package — consider a high-level Spectrum or DIRECTV (from AT&T) plan — to get the most channels. Note that there are always exceptions for certain channels. For instance, DirecTV Stream doesn’t have NFL Network on any of its plans.
- Bundle Your TV and Internet: You can bundle your TV and internet at a cable provider like Spectrum. It’s not much (you’ll save $5/month at Spectrum), but you’ll decrease the cost of both services.
- Use Savings on a Cord-Cutting Service to Splurge Elsewhere: You can save at least $20 to $50 each month by going with a popular cord-cutting service instead of Spectrum/DirecTV Stream. That’s more than enough to spend on your favorite league’s sports package to catch all out-of-market games. With local channels, national networks like ESPN and TNT, and a league pass, you’ll get everything for your favorite sport except games televised on regional sports networks. And don’t forget that some locations have their regional sports networks with popular cord-cutting services like fuboTV.
Cutting the Cord Without Losing National and Regional Sports
Going with a cord-codding setup is fairly straightforward and can save you a lot of money. An HD antenna is optional, but can get local channels that might not be offered by one of the below providers. Add one of those providers for around $70/month and you’ll have money left over, if you want, to spend on a premium sports league package for out-of-market games.
All you really need is a streaming-enabled device, like a smart TV, gaming system, Roku, or your computer/mobile device. You’ll be able to access everything from there. (An optional HD antenna is separate.)
Is streaming really cheaper than cable for sports fans?
In summary, streaming or “cord cutting” is really the best option for most households, provided you only follow one or two regional teams (or better yet, just want national games and a league pass for your sport of choice).
It’s relatively easy to select a cost-effective TV solution if you’re into movies or looking for family entertainment. Unfortunately, as a sports fan, things are much more difficult. You can get premium sports league passes anywhere (except the NFL), but regional sports networks are limited to the likes of Spectrum, Comcast, and DirecTV Stream for most geographical areas.
One option is to get the full cable experience, with a company like Spectrum or Comcast Xfinity.
With Spectrum, as an example, TV packages start at $44.99/month for 12 months and about $30/month in fees. You’ll have a nice set of major sports channels (including ESPN, Fox Sports 1, and NBC Sports Network), regional sports channels, and with the recommended sports package at $5/month, about one dozen extra channels like NBA TV and NFL Network for around $80/month plus taxes. That price can be higher depending on your setup, and your total rate will increase $29/month the second year.
You’ll get a similar experience with DirecTV Stream, which has been more of a traditional provider in the past. However, the company has largely moved from U-verse, DirectTV Now, and DirecTV Stream Now to focus on a streaming service known as DirecTV Stream. Your best bet is the “Choice” package under the no-contract plan at $84.99/month plus taxes, which offers fewer channels than Spectrum’s entry level plan, but many of the important major sports channels and regional sports networks. However, DVR storage above 20 hours costs $10/month (unlimited) and recordings expire in 90 days. Their two-year contract plans aren’t really worth the price given major price increases the second year (add $45+ monthly), an $8.49/month regional sports fees, and early cancellation fees.
No streaming service besides DirecTV Stream offers most of the regional sports networks. But they have clear, upfront pricing, a good selection of other sports channels, and other perks like included DVR storage. You’ll save quite a bit of money that you can spend on a premium package for your favorite sports league. YouTube TV is the standout in this category.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I watch NFL Sunday Ticket without cable?
As of 2023, NFL Sunday Ticket is no longer limited to cable or satellite TV packages. While formerly exclusive to DirecTV, it can now be viewed on streaming platforms including YouTube TV.
Can you watch college sports without cable?
College sports fans can access games through YouTube TV, FuboTV, Hulu + Live, or DirecTV Stream (AT&T). Overall, access to college sports is much better with streaming providers than it is currently with regional sports. Through base or add-on packages, you’ll find a lot of good college sports networks, and with a service like Hulu + Live TV offering the Disney+/ESPN+ package, you can watch a lot of games that might otherwise be hard to find.