Opening Week is upon us and Major League Baseball teams have already started their quest to win this season's World Series, while fans all over gear up for what will hopefully be a very exciting year. And for those who can't make it to the ballpark on a regular basis, keeping up with their favorite team has become a relatively easy feat. A few weeks ago, the MLB, NBA, NHL and others struck a partnership with Time Inc. to launch 120 Sports, with the idea being to provide an online hub that delivers sports video content in a timely manner and across different platforms. This announcement came shortly after the introduction of NFL Now, an all-new digital network that aims to immerse football fans in the ultimate viewing experience -- there will be full on-demand games, highlights, analysis and a lot more to watch.
Both initiatives signal how American sports leagues are adapting to the times by introducing viewing experiences that aren't necessarily tied to being at home. Not everyone will be satisfied with the way the content is delivered, but it's worth acknowledging that leagues like the NFL, NBA and MLB are going the extra mile to try to give people what they want.
Of course, these services often face limitations due to contracts with TV broadcasters, which make things like showing all live games, in the case of NFL Now, practically impossible in the US. But if catching your local team playing live doesn't matter that much, chances are you won't be disappointed. Not all services are limited in this way, though. MLB.TV, for example, does offer regular season games to watch live, with some blackout restrictions -- and the same is true for offerings from a number of other professional leagues. The blackouts might be considered a downside for some, but if you're a transplant, these services are all but made for you. So, if you're from California and (wisely) make the move to The Big Apple, you'll be able to catch, say, the Oakland A's live. As for you non-transplants, MLB does make in-market games available at least 90 minutes after each game is finished.
The limitations that come stock with these services are the result of broadcasting agreements that have been in place for years, and they will continue to be for many more to come. For instance, when questioned about the lack of live games, NFL Now General Manager Cory Mummery said to us, "The NFL is very happy with our long-standing relationships with our broadcast and cable partners, and NFL Now should serve as an additive experience to live television consumption." Now, we shouldn't be surprised to hear this, since the NFL's business with US network and cable/satellite providers is worth billions and billions of dollars. Until that changes, customers shouldn't expect drastic changes in the way the NFL, or anyone else, handles the way it delivers its games. "We are not planning to include live games at this time for our domestic users, but may consider offering some live game content to our international fans," Mummery told Engadget.
But that's not to say all consumers are begging for a solution. Recent market research has shown that most people still prefer to watch sports in the more traditional way: at home, sitting on the couch (with a cold Heady Topper) and a big screen in front of them. It's not a shocking revelation by any means, but no one would deny the shift in the way people like to consume video content nowadays, whether it's in real time or on demand, and whether it's sports or a different type of entertainment.
In most cases, major American sports leagues already have options in place for both pay-TV customers and those known as cord-cutters. While not everyone is content with the current offerings, there are quite a few options to pick from -- it's only a matter of how much you're willing to pay or sacrifice. For most hardcore sports fans, it's safe to say pay-TV is likely the best solution. It's also helpful that cable providers now have applications available for subscribers, which, in some cases, include being able to watch live TV even while being outside of your home network. Case in point: Time Warner Cable, which, depending on the package you're subscribed to, allows you to watch live television on desktop and mobile devices, but the full lineup won't be available unless you're connected to your at-home WiFi. And then there are things like WatchESPN, The World Wide Leader in Sports' internet-based channel, which has apps on almost every platform, but does require a login from a participating cable provider.
There's never been a better time to be a fan, because it's never been easier to keep up with the world of sports.
On the other hand, those without pay-TV don't have many options if they want to watch live sporting events, as most applications need to be authenticated through a cable subscription. For them, Aereo might be a viable solution, since the $8-per-month service offers access to channels from most major networks, such as ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX. The only problem with this is that it isn't available everywhere in the US at the moment, though Aereo has said it is constantly working to launch in more places as quickly as it can.
One thing is certain: There's never been a better time to be a fan, because it's never been easier to keep up with the world of sports. With that in mind, join us as we break down what each league has to offer in the digital age we are in.
MLB.TV: Major League Baseball's popular service comes in at $20 monthly or $110 yearly, in exchange for regular season live and on-demand games. However, while this includes live streams, it only applies to games taking place outside of your local market. But, as we explained before, you can still watch your local team play post-original broadcast -- MLB usually posts them on MLB.TV right after the game is over. You can also take advantage of multiple games (up to four) at once and a DVR feature lets you record your favorite games.
(It's worth mentioning that the aforementioned regional blackouts only happen stateside and in Canada; subscribers outside of these countries can watch roughly all games live.)
MLB.TV Premium: The MLB's top-tier package offers everything we just mentioned, but with a few extras. For $130 per season or $25 every month, you'll get access to apps on iOS, Android, Apple TV and Roku, as well as those on Xbox and PlayStation consoles -- yes, that means next-gen, too. MLB.TV Premium also comes with a subscription to At Bat, which costs $20 per season or $3 per month on its own.
MLB At Bat: Available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8, Kindle and even BlackBerry, the At Bat application is the easiest way for baseball fans to stay in the loop on all things MLB, with live game streams for those with a Premium subscription, radio broadcasts, a library of video archives and real-time scores from across the league. As we mentioned earlier, MLB's At Bat is $20 yearly or $3 monthly.
The MLB is arguably leading the pack when it comes to adjusting itself to the digital era: MLB.TV is a very solid option if you can get past the local blackouts. What's more, the quick adoption of iBeacon across ballparks shows that the league is trying to find more ways to keep moving forward.
NFL Game Rewind: Available in the US and Mexico, Game Rewind provides access to full-game replays, video archives and highlights for $25 per season. There are apps for iOS, Android and Windows 8.
NFL Game Pass: Unlike Game Rewind, Game Pass does include live games, but it's only available outside of the US, at a cost of $25 per week or $250 for the entire season. Similarly, the NFL has apps for this service on the same platforms as Game Rewind.
NFL Now: Due to launch later this summer, NFL Now is set to be one of the National Football League's most ambitious projects yet. While there won't be any live streams of games, as we stated earlier, it will have full on-demand replays. Most importantly, the NFL won't require cable authentication for access and it will be completely free of charge. It will be available worldwide, with apps on iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8, Xbox One and other "select consoles and streaming devices."
NFL Sunday Ticket: The NFL also has Sunday Ticket, which was previously an exclusive for DirecTV customers but as of this year, is now available to anyone willing to pay a hefty fee per season -- much like what DirecTV did to the NFL. Sunday Ticket Max costs $330 yearly or $55 monthly; as part of the subscription, you'll get Red Zone Channel and out-of-market live games, which can be viewed on the web or via mobile apps. The lower-tier Sunday Ticket package is $240 per year or $40 per month, though you won't be able to use the applications nor have access to the Red Zone Channel. Naturally, blackout rules do apply, so this might not make sense if you, say, live in New York and want to watch the Giants play in real time using Sunday Ticket.
Unlike those services from the MLB and NFL, the NBA's model is slightly different, requiring you to purchase it through your cable provider.
NBA League Pass: The NBA options are a bit more limited. While League Pass might not be as appealing as MLB.TV or the NFL's Game Rewind and Game Pass, it does offer access to live and archived games, albeit with regional blackouts for folks in the US. International customers won't have to worry about this.
League Pass can be acquired for $50 per season (Sprint customers can nab it for $40), though this only gives you access to the smartphone apps on iOS and Android. For those looking for a lot more than that, the $200 yearly option means being able to watch live games from all teams on pretty much any device, regardless of the platform, such as iOS, Android, Apple TV, Roku, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and 4, and some cable boxes via the League Pass channel.
The Rest of the Pack
NCAA March Madness: This year, the NCAA rolled out a new version of March Madness Live, giving college hoops fans a way to never lose track of what's happening during the tournament. March Madness Live 2014 brought the app to Kindle, expanding outside of iOS, Android, Windows Phone and desktop for the first time ever. The NCAA made it possible to stream every game, at no cost -- that's if you're subscribed to one of the many cable partners, mind you. Regardless, March Madness Live should be used as an example by developers working for other leagues; it manages to populate lots of content, including news and social media tidbits, without turning into an unusable mess. And hey, despite the Final Four being around the corner, there's still time to give March Madness Live a go.
MLS: For football, aka soccer, Major League Soccer launched MLS Live, which features live matches for $65 per season or $16 per month. Not surprisingly, you'll have to deal with local blackouts here, too. MLS Live is available in the US, Mexico and Canada, and apps are present on Roku, Apple TV, iOS, Android and Windows 8.
NHL: NHL GameCenter is about the only choice hockey fans have. All regular season out-of-market live games can be yours for $50 a season (for now, as it's about $170 at the beginning of the season). The same applies for international viewers, with the exception of a few countries in which the National Hockey League has broadcasting contracts. As part of the yearly fee, GameCenter provides apps on iOS, Android, BlackBerry 10 and more, plus full-game replays, highlights and DVR-like features.
Even though it won't satisfy every fan, there are now a lot more options than before to watch our favorite leagues, teams, players, wrestlers and anything else you can think of.
NASCAR: The Fox Sports Go app is the only way you'll be able to enjoy NASCAR races live. Other than that, NASCAR doesn't exactly have any streaming options. Instead, there's NASCAR Mobile, which offers live audio, stats, highlights and in-race views; and RaceView Premium, a $70-per-season feature that's a "3D virtual video representation" of Sprint Cup races. All in all, NASCAR is the most underwhelming of them all.
WWE: The WWE took the world by storm when it launched WWE Network. For $10 a month, the WWE will give you access to every one of its pay-per-view events, which often cost between $50 and $70 each. As if that's not enough, a WWE Network subscription comes with a ton of additional content, like an on-demand library of old and recent wrestling matches, plus interviews and behind-the-scenes videos. To complement its new network, WWE has apps on iOS, Android, Apple TV, Roku, Xbox 360 and PlayStation consoles.
It's easy to see that these sporting entities are recognizing there's incredible potential in delivering content in as many ways as possible, all with the understanding that they can only go so far due to the nature of preexisting legal contracts with TV carriers and networks. Even though it won't satisfy every fan, there are now a lot more options than before to watch our favorite leagues, teams, players, wrestlers and anything else you can think of. Will there ever be something that works for everyone? So long as it makes financial sense for the parties involved, we can't really see why this would be impossible. Sure, we're not quite there yet, but we're certainly getting there.