The NFL 2016-2017 season kicks off today. There are plenty of ways to watch it, even if you’ve ditched your cable subscription. Let’s look at some of the options available, and whether you need a VPN.
Using an antenna
We previously wrote about setting up an antenna to watch the Olympics. Unlike premium channels like MLB, NBA, and NHL, it’s completely possible to watch the NFL for free, or at least cheaply. Using an over-the-air (OTA) antenna is relatively easy. You will be limited to watching games broadcasted on the channels available in your area. Two websites to use for more information are TV Fool and AntennaWeb.
TV Fool is better than AntennaWeb. It gives you a polar graph and a list of color-coded channels. They categorize the channels by callsign, signal strength, and distance. You’ll also find options for UHF and VHF frequencies. Next, you’ll want to decide between an omnidirectional antenna or a directional antenna.
Types of coverage you’ll get with an antenna:
- Multiple games all day each Sunday
- Sunday night football on NBC
- Monday night football with your home team
- Ten Thursday night games on CBS and NBC
Almost every television network has an app, with on-demand content. The apps that will have NFL live streaming this year:
- WatchESPN – Monday night football
- NBC Sports – Sunday night football and several games on Thursday
- FOX Sports Go – Sunday regional NFL games
If you use this option, you’ll have to log into each app with a username and password from a paid-TV provider, which kind of negates the whole “free NFL” thing. WatchESPN is the easiest to use because certain ISP credentials will work. Using services like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue make it easier. Visit this link for a full list of providers. However, only PlayStation Vue is the only non-cable option that will work for FOX Sports Go and NBC Sports.
Twitter will live stream ten Thursday night football games this year. The company also wants to bring its app and NFL games to Apple TV, but it’s still in negotiations with Apple. At the very least, if you’re super desperate, you’ll get a general sense of the games via Moments and other tweets.
Pirating streams are risky, and this is where a VPN comes in handy. Plenty of websites host pirated streams, but some risks are:
- Ads – these websites are commonly ad-heavy, with pop-ups all over the place. Check out our guide to adblockers here. It covers iOS adblockers, but many of those apps are multi-platform.
- Malware – Don’t download anything from these websites. But if you do, or something downloads automatically, we have antivirus software recommendations.
- Bad quality – Most pirated streams are low quality, but sometimes you’ll get lucky and find an HD stream.
- Dropped connections: Sometimes your stream will cut out in the middle of a game, and you’ll have to find another quickly.
- Legal issues: Finally, it’s usually illegal to use these streams, so using a VPN covers your ass. You probably won’t get caught, but it’s better to be safe.
Check out r/NFLstreams on Reddit for more information.
Sling TV is an affordable cable alternative. It starts at $20/month for the basic package which includes ESPN. More expensive packages nets you FOX and NBC ($25/month). Markets for local games:
- NBC: Chicago, Dallas, Hartford, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Diego and Washington, D.C.
- FOX: Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte N.C., Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Gainesville, FL., Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Tampa and Washington, D.C.
Vue works in a similar fashion to Sling TV. The monthly fee starts at $30 which lets you stream live cable channels without a contract. Like Sling TV, Vue has local networks in particular markets:
- CBS: Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Harrisburg, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco and West Palm Beach.
- FOX: Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Gainesville, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Tampa and Washington, D.C.
- NBC: Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Hartford/New Haven, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
Vue is more expensive than Sling TV, but it also offers more channels. Vue lets you use a cloud-based DVR to record and hold games for 30 days. You can use Vue to authenticate the TV Everywhere apps, while Sling TV only works with WatchESPN.
This service comes with a caveat: it’s not available yet. It debuted at CES 2016 and according to rumors, it will launch soon on NFL Network and other channels. Vidgo will offer:
- Live local channels, National content providers, Sports
- Video on demand, including first run movie titles
- Local Programming in select markets
- 30 days of on-demand cloud DVR content
- Favorites menu bar for quickly accessing the most-watched channels
- Access to full programming suite on-the-go on WiFi or 4G connection
- Each package includes multiple simultaneous device streams
Vidgo CMO Shane Cannon told Motherboard, “VIDGO is excited to provide consumers more choices for college and professional football games this fall…our customers will be able to enjoy streaming live sports at home or on the go.”
Local NFL Game Pass vs. International Game Pass
For U.S citizens the NFL has its streaming service called NFL Game Pass. Game Pass lets you watch pre-recorded games on demand. If you want to watch live out of market games each Sunday it is going to cost you about $400.00 for Gamepass with Sunday Ticket. Instead, use a VPN and sign up for the International Gamepass subscription and you can bypass lame blackouts, save some cash and stream live games. This option costs around $200 for the whole season and plays all of the games live as they air instead of just the out of market games you get with the U.S version of NFL Game Pass.
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