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How To Watch Baseball Without Cable
With the average American household cable bill hovering above $200 a month and the abundance of streaming alternatives to cable, many people are making the choice to cut out cable and satellite service and switch to solely over-the-air and streaming services.
The best part is that you don’t have to lose your favorite shows. With so many streaming services available, we now live in a world of a la carte television, where there’s an option that includes just what you want.
These options led my family and I to cut out cable a few years ago. We dropped our satellite service as a cost-cutting measure and switched to a couple of specific streaming services. Did we regret it? After a year, we were still very happy with our decision to cut cable.
However, the decision to cut cable becomes very difficult for one segment of the American public: sports fans. For many sports fans, the ability to watch games is one of the big draws of cable. It’s possible to watch sports without cable with some caveats, and the NFL in particular makes it fairly easy.
What about baseball? As spring dawns and players report to spring training, what are the options for baseball fans who may want to save money by cutting out cable or satellite service?
The current landscape of MLB and cable
Watching MLB on cable or satellite services can be somewhat tricky. Television rights for MLB are stretched across a lot of different networks and channels. Some networks broadcast games nationwide, while others (like the Marquee Sports Network and the Chicago Cubs) are restricted to broadcasting games of individual teams.
This means that it is actually very difficult to be able to watch all MLB games in your area, even with a cable service that has a lot of channels. You can get most MLB games on cable with a reasonably-priced package, but getting all games quickly becomes very expensive.
Sometimes, two (or more) different networks will have the right to broadcast a game in your area. In that situation, blackout rules take effect. This means that one station or sports network has exclusive TV rights for a particular game in your area. For example, in my area in Iowa, blackout rules affect six different MLB teams, including my beloved Cubs.
The cost of cable for watching MLB
In order to watch most MLB games, including almost all of the games for your favorite team, you’ll need a cable or satellite package that includes the networks with national broadcasting rights for MLB, as well as the regional sports networks that host your favorite team or teams.
For me, I would want a cable service with the Marquee Sports Network for 2021, so I can watch my beloved Cubs, which, given the options in my area, would limit me to DirecTV. The DirecTV Choice package costs $60 a month for the first year and would include this network, many other regional sports networks, and national networks where I would expect to watch some games. However, the price of this service currently goes to $122/month after the first year. This is fairly typical for a cable or satellite package that includes the regional sports network for your favorite team.
For an additional $20 to $25 a month on many packages, you can get the additional MLB Extra Innings package during the season, which adds another 60 or so weekly games. Be aware that these games are subject to regional blackouts. This is a good choice if you want to always be watching a baseball game, but may be overkill for a fan that mostly just wants to follow their team.
In short, a cable package that includes most MLB games for your favorite team will likely run you well over $100 per month.
Streaming options for MLB
What are your options if you simply want to watch baseball using a streaming service and have little need for lots of other cable channels? Here are some options.
The best inexpensive streaming option for all of MLB
If you’re not attached to a specific team or your favorite team is outside of your blackout area, MLB.TV is your most cost-effective option. For $110 for a single team or $130 for all teams, you can watch all MLB games for the full season not subject to blackout in your area for the full season.
For example, if I were a Mariners fan rather than a Cubs fan, this would be a tremendous deal for me, as it would enable me to watch all Mariners games aside from when they were playing against teams in my own blackout area.
Our recommendation: MLB.TV
Cost: $110 or $130 for the full season, including spring training and postseason
Pros: Covers most games, easy to use on mobile devices while traveling
Cons: Does not include most games for your local team
The most thorough streaming option for all of MLB
If you want to watch as many games as possible, you will need to find a streaming service that includes the regional cable network that covers teams for your blackout area.
In order to maximize your baseball viewing, you need to find a streaming service that includes those channels (which you can find using Google) and pair it with the MLB.TV option above.
For example, let’s say you typed in your zip code and found that the only team blacked out for you was the Colorado Rockies. You could rely on MLB.TV for all non-Rockies games, then the specific regional sports network for the Rockies games, and that would cover almost all of MLB. The Rockies are covered by AT&T SportsNet, so it’s available via AT&T TV with a package that costs $65 a month. Pair that with MLB.TV for roughly $20 a month and you have almost all MLB games available to you for about $85 a month.
It’s worth noting that Youtube TV includes most of the regional sports networks (but not all) for $65 a month. Again, pairing that with MLB.TV as noted above gives you the vast majority of MLB games for $85 a month.
Our recommendation: MLB.TV plus Youtube TV (see note above about specific teams)
Cost: $85 a month for the length of the season
Pros: Includes almost all MLB games
Cons: A few regional networks not included
The best streaming option for MLB spring training
For spring training specifically, many of the above solutions also apply. In the case of spring training, MLB.TV offers streaming of games that are not on regional sports networks without any blackouts as part of the annual package, but if you want all spring training games or at least all of the ones for your favorite team, you’ll likely need to complement MLB.TV with a service that provides your team’s regional sports network.
Our recommendation: MLB.TV
Cost: $110-$130 for full season, including spring training
Pros: Offers many spring training games spread across all teams
Cons: Does not include all spring training games
The best streaming option for MLB playoffs
For the MLB playoffs, games will be spread across several national networks: ESPN, ABC, FOX, FS1, TBS and MLB Network. However, the MLB.TV streaming service in past years has included most postseason games, including the World Series, without any sort of regional restrictions. If you already have MLB.TV, you’re likely good to go for most of the MLB playoffs at no additional cost.
Our recommendation: MLB.TV
Cost: $110-$130 for full season including postseason; $10 for postseason only
Pros: Includes most postseason games and all World Series games
Cons: A few games won’t be available
The best streaming option for your favorite team
If you’re exclusively a fan of one team, you’ll want a streaming service that provides the regional sports network that matches your favorite team. It’s worth noting that Youtube TV includes most of those regional sports networks for $65 a month, as noted earlier.
Our recommendation: A streaming service that includes your favorite team’s regional sports network
Cost: $50–70 per month
Pros: Will include almost all of your favorite team’s games
Cons: A few games won’t be available
How to watch baseball for free
The truth is that, these days, your options for watching baseball at home for free are extremely limited. Using an over-the-air antenna will allow you to watch several broadcast networks for free, but the games they broadcast are few. This MLB schedule provides a list of nationally broadcast MLB games, but the only ones you’re able to pick up for free with an over-the-air antenna are those on FOX, which will be shown on your local FOX station. However, several playoff games and the World Series will be available for free on your local Fox affiliate using an over-the-air antenna.
Our recommendation: Over-the-air antenna that can pick up a local Fox affiliate
Cost: $30 startup cost for antenna, free thereafter
Pros: Gets you 1–2 weekly nationally broadcast games
Cons: You’ll miss most games, but it’s free!
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